Saturday, March 21, 2009

Ekphrasic - a poetic form

Look at various pieces of art and describe what you see. What does it make you think of? Can you tell a story/write a poem about what may be going on in the picture?

Or just describe the picture itself, especially focussing on the colours and designs.

Ekphrasic poetry is the name for this type of poetry. Think Keats’ ‘Ode to a Grecian Urn’. That is ekphrasic poetry – a poem based on a work of art. You can go high falutin’ and visit an art gallery, or you can use any artwork at all – the towers at McDonalds, posters you see on a bill board.

I encourage poets and writing groups to give this form a writing a go. It can be amazingly effective at getting poets to step out of their comfort zone. For this purpose, the group I’ve been involved in used postcard sized pictures of paintings by famous painters. Everyone enjoyed the exercise, though some found it challenging. Being challenged is good for you, it makes your brain travel down new paths, creating new pathways as it goes.

I chose a painting of Picasso’s ‘Seated Nude’, to write a poem, which was all about what I thought of when I studied the painting for the set time period – it may have been fifteen minutes, I can’t remember now. I was there inside that painting, feeling for the poor woman, almost weeping for her. I was happy with the depth of feeling I created with the poem I wrote and I went home satisfied with my efforts.

I promptly lost the picture and when I tried to locate it on the internet I discovered Picasso may have had a talent for painting, but he didn’t have a talent for coming up with original names for his paintings – there are lots and lots of Picasso paintings entitled ‘Seated Nude’. I have never found the right one.

But whenever I re-read the poem I crafted, I can see that poor woman and I remember the dark paths I travelled down to write that poem. Dark, but ultimately successful, in that I shook out and chased off some of my personal ghosts. It feels good to have dealt with these ghosts in such a way.

That is one of the reasons I have works of art at the bottom of this website, so that people can use the works as prompts and create their own literary work of art based on the painterly works of art. A different one every day, potentially a new poem from you every day.

Have a try, then make a comment so others can see what you have learned.


Keith Wallis said...

I had no idea that there was a term for the style of photo based poetry that I write until I was pointed (today) to 'ekphrasic poetry'. Found your blog whilst researching the term.

Carolyn Cordon said...

Thanks Keith. I enjoy exploring the many poetic forms created so far, and I was happy to have created and shared a form I made up myself, the 'Cordonostic form'.
It's a form based on syllables, and is suitable for youngsters to use to create their own poems.