How to Write an Ekphrastic Poem at the High School Level

An ekphrastic poem responds to another type of artwork such as a sculpture, painting or dance performance. Ekphrasis has existed since poets like Horace and Homer penned their first works. As the poet, your job is the experience and interpret sensually the art and render your own companion piece of art in poetic form. This takes a keen focus on the senses, a crafting of language and a willingness to rework lines to make the poem tight, vivid and powerful.

Find your Influence

In order to create an ekphrastic poem, you'll need a piece of artwork from which to draw influence. Find a sculpture outside in your city or on a local campus, or head to a museum to sit in front of drawings, paintings, or photography. Once you've found your piece, record the title and the artist's name so you can pay tribute beneath your own poem's title.

Create a Sensory Pool

Poets create a "sensory pool" by paying close attention to sight, sound, color, light, feeling, movement and other tangible aspects of a subject. Try to disregard your analytical mind or any historical knowledge, and instead experience the artwork through your senses. A poet doesn't need to "know" facts about a piece of art. Instead, the poet experiences the artwork. Write down notes about what you experience -- memories, sensations of smell or touch, impressions of the images you see inside the art. These will help you form your poem once you've decided on your approach.

Find an Approach

You can approach the ekphrastic poem in several ways, and as the poet it's your choice. You may write about your experience viewing the art, about an experience the artwork draws from your memory or a monologue or story you imagine coming from a voice inside the painting or sculpture. For example, you might speak from the voice of the Mona Lisa or imagine what people are thinking as they stroll through Central Park in a painting. The choice is up to you, and what notes you jotted in your sensory pool will help you pick.

Organize your Poem

Arrange your notes into lines. You should know from your notes whether you're writing a narrative poem or a lyrical poem. A narrative poem tells a story, so if your notes have recorded a memory in story form, start from the beginning and tell the story using only concrete language of the five senses. If, instead, you've written a lyrical poem that is more of a collection of notions from an experience, begin to organize them into lines. For example, if your poem captures the scene of a busy sidewalk in a city where pedestrians are walking around a statue, organize your ideas based on how well the lines fit together, whether rhymes can be created, and whether you want to capture the flow of motion in the area.

Revise Aloud

Revise your poem by reading it aloud. Listen to the way the words sound. If a line is redundant or if several words are unnecessary, cut them out. Focus on sound and alliteration, which means the repetition of a consonant or vowel sound. Look at the poem on the page and decide if you want it to have a particular shape. You might organize the lines into quatrains, or four-line stanzas, or you may decide on couplets, which are two-line stanzas. Your poem does not have to have any formal shape or structure at all, though, as it could be a free verse poem.