Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Stretch With Ekphrastic Poetry and Writing

By Janie Reinart

It's time to “work out” your writing muscles. Take a deep cleansing breath and stretch

Today, I invite you to bring the visual arts and creative writing together. 

From the Greek meaning to describe, ekphrastic poetry or writing uses a painting or work of art as the jumping off point for entering into that work of art and creating something new in our response.

An example is John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn where the figures are in motion but frozen in time.

             What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
            What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
               What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Don McLean's hit song Vincent (Starry, Starry Night) is another example of using paintings and Van Gogh's life to create music.

Starry, starry night.
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze, 
Swirling clouds in violet haze,
Reflect in Vincent's eyes of china blue.

One of my favorite authors, Tracy Chevalier, wrote a story using the painting of the Dutch painter Vermeer as her jumping off point, Girl with a Pearl Earring.

In an interview, Tracy says," In the painting the girl’s clothes are very plain compared to other Vermeer ladies, and yet the pearl is clearly luxurious. I was fascinated by that contrast, and it seemed to me that the pearl was not hers. At the same time, I also felt she knew Vermeer well, as her gaze is very direct and knowing. So I thought, "She knows him, she’s close to him, but she’s not well off. Who is she?" His servant. It just seemed right."

I had the opportunity to participate in a project partnering works of fine art with poetry called Silver Apples of the Moon.  Each participant juxtaposed a favorite poem with a piece of visual art and then explained how it enriched our lives and touched us in a personal way.

The poem I chose was When Someone Deeply Listens to You by my friend, John Fox. The painting,The Red Kerchief by Claude Monet was at the Cleveland Museum of Art. 

Here is an excerpt from my essay, The Deep Color of Love, dedicated to my friend and colleague, Jane Clark

Silence frames this fleeting moment like the delicate lace curtains painted by Monet. Listen. Just listen. Loneliness glances out the window of a bare nursing home room...

I search her face for signs of her old self. There is blurriness there-like Monet's sketchy brush strokes. She is ensnared in her body, frozen, just looking back at me... 

As the red cape in the picture draws my attention, so my eyes are drawn to my friend's right hand. It is the only part of her body that she can move now. 

Her fingernails painted a deep red-the color of passionate living, of love, of life-blood-are her last act of defiance against her brain tumor...

We share three precious hours in that room...Her death a few days later leaves me staring, frozen in grief... Her memory " is now at home within." 

Share your creations with us in the comments. Mention what work of visual art was your inspiration.


  1. Beautiful and moving, Janie. Nice work.

    I'll give this a try today in the middle of my other work. It may give rise to wonderful things. Thanks!

  2. Jilanne, Thank you. Don't you just love wandering in the art museum and looking at portraits? I do. It amazes me that the paintings have been there and will be there to feed our souls. Please share your insights with us. Enjoy.

  3. Beautiful excerpt from your essay, Janie. I'm looking forward to choosing a piece of art (a sculpture perhaps?), and partnering some writing with it. Thanks for the suggestion!

  4. Patricia my friend was a school librarian. We shared the love of books and did poetry contests with the high school students in the school library. We even did mini book reviews--adding music and different hats while reading excerpts from new books.We had as my grandchildren say "big" fun together. I'm looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

  5. You have taught me something new, Janie. Sharing my creation of an ekpharstic poem based on Vincent van Gogh's Starry Night.

    A peaceful night
    A crescent moon
    A peaceful town
    Filled with wonder
    ~Suzy Leopold

    1. Lovely! The sounds are soothing as a lullaby. Thanks, GG.

    2. Thank you, Janie, for encouraging me to try something new.

  6. Appreciations Janie!
    I look forward to trying this lesson on describing poetry.
    And wowza - the sign of a great teacher is a student's great work.
    Luv Suzy's poem based on Starry Night by Van Gogh!
    Head of the class, each of you.

    1. Jan, Suzy (Garden Girl) did a fabulous job. Check out Irene Latham's blog-Live Your Poem. She wrote a poem a day for April based on images from the online collection of the National Gallery of Art.

  7. Suzy - We are so in tune! Enjoyed that month of ARTSPEAK enormously & hope to return when there is more time to comment more than I did. Thank you for thinking of it.

    1. Live Your Poem by Irene Latham is such an excellent blog, Janie.

      We do have some similar tastes, Jan.