How to Write a Snapshot Poem

In many ways, a photograph is like a poem; through the use of detail, it captures an image that transmits a feeling or idea to readers. A snapshot poem takes advantage of this quality by recreating the emotional core of a photograph. Even if readers haven't seen the picture, they should still be able to visualize it and understand its importance. You can write a snapshot poem by choosing and observing an interesting photograph, using imagery and tone and considering the image's significance.

Choosing a Photograph

Any picture can provide inspiration for your poem. Often, poets use family photos as the basis for their work. For example, Vona Groarke's "The Family Photograph" portrays the moment her family's portrait was taken while flashing forward to how she'll feel looking at it years later. You can go through photo albums and find a picture that's important to your family. You can also search for interesting photos on the Internet, in magazines or at flea markets or antique stores. Pictures that seem to have stories behind them will give you more material.

Observation and Free Writing

Once you've picked a photograph, high school English teacher Amy Jo Harrell suggests observing the image for 90 seconds to help you emotionally connect with the scene. When the time is up, you can free write about what you noticed and brainstorm ideas. For example, if you choose a family photo that you remember, you might write about how your recollections differ from the picture. For other photos, you can think about what details stand out or what emotion seems prominent. You can also note prominent visuals, such as facial expressions, backgrounds and colors.

Tone and Detail

Because readers should be able to visualize the photograph, your poem needs clear imagery. Imagery is any description that evokes the senses, such as sound, sight, taste or smell. As you look at the photograph, think about what sensory details might be important to a vivid description of the scene. Since you also want to evoke the feeling associated with the picture, tone -- the speaker's emotional attitude-- is also important. When you read over your first draft, think of how you might use precise word choice to effectively bring the emotion to life.


Considering the overall significance of the photograph will give you ideas of what message the poem might send. If you're writing about a personal photograph, you can discuss its significance directly. For example, if it's one of the last pictures taken of a loved one before his death, you might disclose that information to readers. If you've chosen a different picture, you can still consider who the people in it might be and what the photograph could mean to them. Then, you can refine your imagery and language to create unity with this importance.

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