5 Tips for Writing Ekphrastic Poetry

"Language is social art" -Willard Van Orman Quine

Poetry lives at the intersection of literature and art. Much like literary artworks, visual art presents itself for infinite interpretations. Just think: there are a million different ways to write about a painting or sculpture. Art is an exchange between the artist and the rest of the world; through this exchange, perspectives are broadened and cultures become understood. Creating poetry inspired by art is like having a conversation with the artists or the subject of the work themselves. Bottom line: art inspires art. The relationship between writers and visual artists is an exchange of ideas and inspiration that has existed throughout history, and now it's your chance to pick up a pen and join history by writing ekphrastic poetry!

  1. What is Ekphrastic Poetry? For as long as there have been visual artists there have been writers. Homer's description of the Shield of Achilles in The Iliad is one of the oldest known examples of ekphrasis. The word Ekphrasis translates to "description" in Greek and ekphrastic poetry is a form of creative writing describing a work of art of visual image. As the rules of poetry are always fluid, an ekphrastic poem can be inspired by a work of art rather than simply giving a creative description of the visuals.
  2. Get Inspired. The beautiful and impressive thing about visual art is that you can find an example anywhere you go. The writing will come more organically if the subject is one that you are naturally drawn to. If you see a painting at the doctor's office that makes you laugh or raise your eyebrows, write about it. If you're (literally anywhere) in Brooklyn or your own town and you see an interesting mural, write about it. If you're people-watching from the window of your local coffee shop and you see someone with an interesting outfit, write about it. Go to an art gallery, choose any exhibit, and write about it. If you have a favorite picture or landmark that you remember fondly or pass every day, write about it. Good rule of thumb: when you see something interesting, anywhere, give yourself five minutes to write as much as you can about it, then move on. This will help you gather your first impressions and interpretation of the art piece.
  3. Site Down and Write. This works best if you're present in the same space as the piece when you begin writing. Pay attention to the details like the colors and generally just how it makes you feel. Just like words, paintings have tones and motifs in them as well. You can write a poem that describes what's going on in the artwork or you can write a persona poem from the perspective of one of the subjects in the piece. You can even write yourself into the frame of of a painting. Experiment and have fun!
  4. Make it a Party. There's power in numbers, especially when it comes to ekphrastic poetry. Get a group of friends together, present everyone with the same piece of artwork and allow everyone time to jot down their first impressions. After everyone is given the chance to put those thoughts into a poem, share them with one another aloud. You'll be amazed at how many different narratives can stem from the same visual! If you've got any artist friends it might be a fun idea to create ekphrasis based off each other's work. Allow them to create a picture based off your poetry and vice versa. The same can be done between two poets as well. It's all about creating work and building relationships with other artists.
  5. Share Your Work. Art galleries are often the hosts for some of the coolest open mic events around. There are also  plenty of spaces that would love for your to come and share your artwork-based poetry with others. The Nuyorican Poets Cafe hosts events every year where artists paint while poets recite their work! Share your work on your blog or with your instagram friends, placing your poem alongside the art that inspired it. Of course, don't forget about us! Post your poem on Power Poetry today. We're ecstatic to read your ekphrasis!

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