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Lesson Plan

Ekphrasis: Using Art to Inspire Poetry

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Ekphrasis: Using Art to Inspire Poetry

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Unit
Estimated Time Eight 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Ann Kelly Cox

Normal, Illinois


National Council of Teachers of English



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From Theory to Practice



In this lesson, students explore ekphrasis—writing inspired by art. Students begin by reading and discussing several poems inspired by works of art. Through the discussion, students learn ways in which poets can approach a piece of artwork (for instance, writing about the scene being depicted in the artwork, writing in the voice of the person depicted in the artwork, speaking to the artist or subject of the painting, etc.). Students then search online for pieces of art that inspire them and, in turn, compose a booklet of poems about the pieces they have chosen.

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Perspectives in Writing Ekphrastic Poetry: This handout describes several approaches that could be taken when writing Ekphrastic poems.

Ekphrasis: Poetry Confronting Art: This page from the American Academy of Poets explains ekphrasis and provides links to poetry inspired by art.

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Poets have used art as inspiration for centuries. John Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn" is one famous example, but even ancient poets such as Homer have turned to artwork as a source of stimulation for their writing.  Honor Moorman notes: "William Blake said that poetry and art are 'ways to converse with paradise' (Farrell 6). In the Phaedrus, Plato observes that when paintings and poems are put together, they 'seem to talk to you as if they were intelligent' (qtd. in Foster and Prevallet xv)... Georgia Heard calls language 'the poet's paint' (65), and many other writers and artists have commented on the parallels between these two modes of expression." (46-47) In Heart to Heart: New Poems Inspired by Twentieth-Century American Art, Jan Greenberg explains her belief in "the power of art to inspire language" (4). She notes that "What the poet sees in art and puts into words can transform an image . . . extending what is often an immediate response into something more lasting and reflective." (4). This lesson allows students to harness the power of visual images to inspire their own poetry.

Further Reading

Greenberg, Jan, ed. 2001. Heart to Heart: New Poems Inspired by Twentieth-Century American Art. New York: Abrams.


Moorman, Honor. "Backing into Ekphrasis: Reading and Writing Poetry about Visual Art." English Journal 96.1 (September 2006): 46-53.

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