Irene Latham: Live Your Poem!

Well, April is National Poetry Month so we should be writing poetry! I know what you’re thinking, “I can’t write poetry!” I used to think the same thing. But the more I learn about this beautiful art, the more I think, well, maybe…

I had the pleasure of meeting the most delightful poet a couple of weeks ago, her name is Irene Latham. Irene has written two award-winning novels for children, Leaving Gee’s Bend and Don’t Feed the Boy and she has a slew of poetry collections that have earned her a small mountain of metals.  They are colorful and happy collections of poetic phrases.  I admire the way poets are able to artfully string words together to make meaning, seemingly without effort.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to do that!

Irene came and talked to my Creative Writing class about “Living Your Poem” and what great advice she gave! One way to “live your poem”, she says, is to use art as inspiration. Ekphrastic poetry is poetry that “reflects on the action of a piece of art and adds to or expands upon its meaning.” Basically, it’s studying a piece of artwork—a painting or a sculpture—then writing a poem about it.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so you shouldn’t run out of things to say!

 

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She came with a little vintage trunk full of postcards with intriguing images and striking colors and the students chose whatever captured their imagination.  Then they followed her guidelines and set to work on their poems—or at least made a start. Her guidelines:

  1. Any kind of art can be used for ekphrastic poetry, including painting, sculpture, wood carving, play, dance, movie, etc.
  2. Choose a piece that speaks to you. Sit with it. Perhaps carry a photo of it.
  3. Strive to carry the poem beyond description. Add to the artwork.
  4. Tap into the senses not evident in the art; enter the scene.
  5. Don’t worry about whether your poem matches the artists’ intention. Write about what it means to your life, memories, experiences, you.
  6. Don’t miss the details. Deconstruct the piece, then put it back together again in your own unique way.
  7. Use words in your poem that reflect the mood of the artwork.
  8. Ask questions of each character in the artwork.
  9. Speak to the artist? What do you want to ask? Address these issues in your poem.
  10. Surprise the reader by making leaps in your poem by connecting the artwork to big thoughts and ideas.

I chose several vintage postcards that reminded me of my childhood. The first was this one.

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The roller skates immediately took me back to my ten year old self in the summertime. Houston, TX. I won’t dare tell the year, but you can look at the picture and tell it was a long time ago! And here’s another one that conjures memories of my grandmother’s living room.

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I’ve been beating my head against the keyboard trying to get some words to come out that would capture these images and memories in a way that would be worthy of sharing, but I haven’t quite gotten them together yet. Over the next few days, though, I will be sharing more postcard images and some of the beautiful words that my students came up with from this assignment.

In the meantime, if you have some ideas or want to try your hand at some Ekphrastic poetry, put them in the comment box! I’d love to hear from you!

For inspiration and more great poetry check out Irene Latham’s blog: Irene Latham

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