May 3, 2013

POETRY FRIDAY: Ekphrastic Poems

Until a few months ago I had never heard the term “ekphrastic poetry.” But then some writer friends of mine invited me to an exhibit featuring this format, and I decided to check it out. I am so glad that I did!

Ekphrastic poetry is poetry that is inspired by or makes a statement about another art form. One example of this is John Keats’ poem, Ode on a Grecian Urn, in which Keats waxes eloquent about an urn. Here is the beginning of the first stanza:

Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of Silence and slow Time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:

from Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats (1795-1821)

At the ekphrastic poetry exhibit I attended, I read poetry that was inspired by paintings, sculptures, quilts, war memorabilia, letters, and more. Both the poems and the art that inspired them were on display, and the result was a beautiful, eclectic collection of very special writing. Toward the end of the afternoon, when each author had an opportunity to read his or her poem aloud, the emotional connection between poet, poem, and art form was evident. It was one of those experiences that has stuck with me.    

I’ve wanted to try my hand at writing an ekphrastic poem ever since, so this week I selected a favorite photograph that my husband took when our family visited Landsford Canal State Park in Catawba, SC last May. This South Carolina gem is home to the largest population of the rare and endangered rocky shoals spider lily. Peak season is in May and June, and we enjoyed our time walking along the river’s banks and viewing these stunning flowers. 

Another highlight of the day was our hike through the old canal tow paths that enabled the river to accommodate commercial traffic in the early 1880s. As we hiked through the site and explored the area surrounding an old mill that operated during the time the canal was in use, my husband snapped photographs. Looking at them later, this one struck me as particularly beautiful:

Here is my ekphrastic poem inspired by this photo:

Nowhere to go but straight ahead
the sides are too steep
the past too deep
my path is clear
and HOPE
leads me

I enjoyed writing this poem, especially the process of exploring the personal connections of what the photograph means to me. It is not perfect, but it sure was fun to write!

If you have a favorite painting, photograph, sculpture, etc., consider writing your own ekphrastic poem. It adds an additional layer of dimension to the writing process, and to the reader’s experience of the poem itself, and is definitely one of my new favorite forms of poetry.

Happy Writing!

If you live anywhere near the north central area of South Carolina, I highly encourage you to visit Landsford Canal State Park. Peak spider lily season is upon us, and the display is always spectacular!


  1. So glad that you tried writing an ekphrastic poem. That's a great photograph. Love your "Hope"!

    1. Thank you, Tabatha! I will definitely try more of this type of poetry--it is really a unique approach to writing.

  2. Your "Hope" poem gives me 'hope' that I can master this form. The scenery at the state park is amazing. Thanks for sharing. =)

  3. I love writing from a photo or other art!

    1. It is fun, isn't it? Thanks for stopping by, Mary Lee!

  4. I love the idea of a ekphrastic poetry exhibit with a reading. I like the way the form of your poem goes with your subject and your photograph, leading us to "on," its own little tunnel. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Thank you, Liz! The exhibit and reading was so much fun!

  5. It's a lovely poem & then personal connection. I love ekphrastic poetry-have used it several ways with students. Thanks!

  6. Great blog and love your poem! :)

  7. Becky, I think it's very cool that as the shape of your poem got narrower and shorter, the message became stronger and more determined, like a path we're now more focused on taking. The pictures are wonderful and thank you for sharing about ekphrastic poetry!

    1. Thank you so much, Claudine! I really appreciate it! = )

  8. I'm jealous of your hike. The pictures are beautiful!


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