Prompt: Writing from a Photograph

From contributed by Robin Church. Choose a photograph. Write a poem from the perspective of the character n it. Be sure to use details in the photo as images in the poem. Focus on creating a distinctive and and consistent voice.

Here’s an example from poet, Richard Blanco: Photo of a Man on Sunset Drive: 1914. (Full text of the poem here). Notice how Blanco describes a scene from a hundred years ago.  From there, he goes on to tell us how this scene has changed.  His poem is a time machine of sorts that carries us back and forth through time at the same location.  This is a great way to build a poem around a photograph, going well beyond description of the photo itself.

Elizabeth Kerlikowske

Another technique is offered by poet and teacher, Steve Kowit in his book, In the Palm of Your Hand. He suggests a poem in three parts:

1) Describe briefly what is in the photo, focusing on just a couple of details.
2) Animate the photo by suggesting movement or other sensory input.
3) Enter the picture and interact with the objects or people in the photograph.

Here’s a poem demonstrating Kowit’s technique from The Ekphrastic Review that was written by one of our PSM members.

Prompt: A Contemporary Sonnet

Have you written a sonnet lately? Now is a good time. Yes, there is the rhyme scheme but you can squeeze that a little bit. You don’t want to have your lines end at the breaks. That will result in Dr. Seussishness. Enjamb, let the lines flow into the next. The rhyme should be really subtle in this old rhymed form. Write the Black Lives Matter poem. Did Ovid write about Covid? He would’ve. (He didn’t write sonnets either but so…as I used to say as a teenager.) Make it contemporary. No flowery handkerchief language.

Elizabeth Kerlikowske

Prompt: An Updated Myth

Write a poem that modernizes a classical myth. Rewrite the old myth in modern terms. For instance, Sisyphus is doomed to push a car up a hill forever. You may make yourself the classical figure if you like. (From The Mind’s Eye by Kevin Clark) Don’t forget: Poetry Society of Michigan is looking for poems that have turned out well from these prompts for a reading. Send to

Elizabeth Kerlikowske

Here’s a clever example from the pages of Third Wednesday Magazine. (by permission from the editors).