It can be a good exercise to write a poem while studying the details in a painting or photograph. At first the picture may seem so complicated you are unsure of what to write about it. Iíve found artists and photographers to be very comfortable with this type of writing. Of course we all have our muses. Writing from a picture though can be a good start toward thinking and writing concretely.
It may be a good idea to understand the painting or photograph before starting to write. Take a little time to absorb the details of the scene and internalize them. What objects in the room does the artist want you to notice? What objects have a uniqueness about them that prods further investigation? What atmosphere (emotions, mood, and feelings) does the picture exude after youíve started to absorb it?
Colors are also important, since colors often can put us into a certain mood very quickly. Red and black colors in a picture usually cause me to think of the end of days. A sky deep blue with fluffy white clouds in it and a friendly yellow sun makes me feel peaceful. A rough ocean gives you different feelings than a smooth sea with a fisherman relaxing in a boat. In a good picture the characters are unique, not just stereotypes. The picture should tell a story. Check for details in the picture that tell a story in much the same way you would analyze a room to see that your kids were having a party in the house when you were gone, or how a woman sniffs for perfume on her husband when he comes home late from work.
A picture really does tell a story. You donít have to understand the entire story before you start writing, but you should at least have a feeling of the mood or atmosphere of the picture before you put pen to paper.
Are there two or three objects clearly visible in the picture? One picture I helped a student with was kind of an abstract painting that reminded me of Picassoís paintings. There was an abstractly painted person on one side of the painting and a mask on the other side. I told my student these objects probably should be compared or contrasted to each other since they were the only two objects in the painting that were clearly focused. The womanís hand seemed to have evil connotations, and a cherry under the mask seemed to me to represent virginity. The womanís body was also blurred. Perhaps sensuality trying to get out but banned.
My student told me the cherry looked like an apple to him. I didnít argue, because you donít have to understand the object perfectly; itís only necessary that the picture jars creativeness within you and gives you images that trigger images you have real associations with in your mind already. Once you start on the concrete when writing your poem, then you have earned the right to move on to the other aspects of poem writing, like interpretation, philosophizing, or explaining. Start with the concrete images, and then you can relax and have fun with the rest.
Below is a poem that I wrote while looking at a vase of plastic flowers sitting on a table.
Those Plastic Flowers on Your Table
How about those plastic roses on your table
that never bloom? Wide-open faces
never can lose their youth,
Can never die in love, never close, leave
Turn up their noses or spit replies
Love, forgive, tell little white lies.
Never been alive,
those prefabricated unnatural
blooms, but you still keep them
in your dining room. You point out
the cuckoo clock, the G.E. Microwave,
Your 2.4 Gigahertz phone,
but the unnatural flora you leave alone.
So what are they for, a snapshot?
Plastic flowers like death masks
each flowerís dead beauty imprisoned?
Does it help you appreciate
that one red rose now looks velvet
in your green back yard?
of half-dozen folded, bound in plastic-
six enclosed towers near where you dine.
Their moment is at hand, only days
in which to bloom;
Trapped in tight buds
I sense their anxious trembling
Stagnating in their eternal youth.
Those six petrified children.
Never will they dance
In summerís windy fields
always to feel unending sun
Mouths parted, they never curse,
Never open their eyes
To count the long days.
In a deliciously curved vase
you mummify nature, morbidly;
bring order to what is dead
in your plastic scene of life.
Don V Standeford