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Friday, 9 November 2018

Meddle with an ekphrasis poem

For the launch of the Meddling with Poetry course, I'm sharing 16 delicious forms of poetry I've discovered, each of them a delight to play with.

Meddle with an ekphrasis poem: Choose a picture or a work of art that you like and describe it, in a poem – any style, any length. For added fun, you could play with matching your writing style to the artwork’s style.

Ekphrasis simply means describing an artwork in a poem – usually visual art, a painting, a sculpture, etc, but you could equally describe a piece of music or a dance, if you wanted. It's a lovely form when you want to write, but aren't sure what to write about. You can write in free verse (no set rhyme or metre) or use it to write in another form, like a sonnet, a sestina, or whatever you fancy. Depending on the artwork you're using, you might write a narrative which the picture suggests, about the person in a picture, or a description of the scene. Matching your writing style to the artistic style can be a fun extra challenge, to stretch your writing in new directions - to copy a loose flowing style, or a stark bold one, or whatever the picture suggests.

Don't feel like you have to stick to Fine Art or established art - photographs, 3D art, digital art, graffiti, use anything you fancy. Bookmark pictures you like on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, so you have a collection to dip into. I follow Helen Warlow on Twitter, who posts several pictures a day from a cross-section of artists and styles, and a bunch of artists I like on both Twitter and Facebook. Fantasy art and 3D / digital art can also give you a doorway into wonderful worlds and story-poems.

The most famous ekphrastic poem is probably "Ode on a Grecian Urn" by John Keats ("Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness..." etc) – which, incidentally, he published anonymously and the critics hated. The example below was written about Henri Rousseau's painting, "The Dream", taking its very bold stylised lines and colours as an exercise in writing only in heavy syllables. The painting's below the poem.

Greens: lime, fern, moss, jade;
leaves limned, strong lines rise,
spike, spread, splay: soft blade,
rich light, thick white skies.
Blue blooms burst; bold birds
perch, peach; deep-shade eyes
peer past full fruit; words
drown; gold flesh curves, thighs
heaped, breasts ripe; apes play
brass notes, sharp fierce cries;
stems stand; horns curl; day
stops, struck here: warm, wise.

Henri Rousseau, The Dream.

Note: To respect copyright, these blog posts only use my own poems as examples. On the course, I'm licensed to give my students copyright poems, so you'll see lots of other contemporary poems.

The next Meddling with Poetry course starts in May 2020. It explores a host of different poetry forms, as well as the musicality of language, poetic imagery, and other aspects of the poetic. Absolute beginners and experienced writers are equally welcome. You can read more details and book a place here.

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