From girlswritenow.org 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.
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.
Try a haibun.Haibun (俳文, literally, haikai writings) is a prosimetric literary form originating in Japan, combining prose and haiku. The range of haibun is broad and frequently includes autobiography, diary, essay, prose poem, short story and travel journal. Usually the prose is in the present tense, not longer than 180 words, and the entire thing ends with a haiku I’m trying my bunkhouse piece in this format. You can find lots of info online about them. The Haibun Hut is a Facebook group where Haibun can be posted by anyone. The masters of the Haibun were Issa and Bashō. Here is one from Bashō (translation by Franz Wright):
As the freezing rain of early winter began falling desolately over everything, I sought warmth and company at a roadside inn. Allowed to dry my soaked clothes at the fire, I was further comforted for a time by the innkeeper who tactfully listened to me relate some of the troubles I met with on the road. Suddenly it was evening. I sat down under a lamp, taking great care with them as I produced my ink and brushes, and began to write. Recognizing my work, he solemnly requested that I consider composing a poem in honor of our one brief encounter in this world:
At an inn I am asked for identification traveler let that be my name the first winter rain
From Crossroads: Creative Writing Exercises in Four Genres by Diane Thiel. (textbook, 2005) Choose a place or a building that has evocative memories for you. Let your piece stay focused on the place as a “container” for memories.(I’m going to write about a bunkhouse. First line: Skunks lived under it.)
Write a poem giving someone advice. Use the language of something else to do it. Example: I want to give you advice about your crappy relationship but instead I talk about methods to get a stubborn stain out of a carpet. It could be an extended metaphor. And fun/clever/don’t even think of rhyming.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ekphrastic poetry: sounds complicated. It’s not. Ekphrastic art pays homage to another art form. In the case of poetry, we write a poem, taking our inspiration from a work of art. Use a painting or a photograph.
Do not spend any time describing the work of art. Enter it. Become part of it. Use details but let your imagination run amok in the art work. There is no right answer but your answer. – Elizabeth Kerlikowske