Unit

Ekphrasis: Using Art to Inspire Poetry

Grades
9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Unit
Estimated Time
Eight 50-minute sessions
Author
Publisher
NCTE
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Overview

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.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

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

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.

Materials and Technology

  • Packet of Ekphrastic Poems

  • Paint Me a Poem: Poems Inspired by Masterpieces of Art by Justine Rowden (Boyds Mills, 2005) (optional)

  • Heart to Heart: New Poems Inspired by Twentieth-Century American Art, edited by Jan Greenberg (Abrams, 2001) (optional)

Printouts

Websites

Preparation

Student Objectives

Students will

  • read and analyze poems inspired by art.

  • discuss the methods poets use to write about artwork.

  • use Internet searching techniques to find several inspiring art pieces.

  • compose poems inspired by the artwork of their choosing.

Session One

  1. Hand out copies of “Vincent” lyrics by Don McLean and additional poems from the prepared packet.

  2. Play the song while students follow along with the lyrics. The song is played by clicking on the title "Vincent" in the Don McLean Music Player located on the bottom right corner of the home page.

  3. Ask students to reflect on the song in their writing journals, answering the questions, “Who do you think Vincent was?” and “What do we learn about Vincent from the song?”

  4. Discuss students’ journal responses. As the discussion develops, students will point out references to painting and art, and some students may realize the song is written about Vincent Van Gogh.

  5. Display an overhead or LCD reproduction of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. (The song also references other Van Gogh paintings—Sunflowers, Wheat Field with Crows, Self-Portrait—which you may choose to show students as well.)

  6. Continue discussing the song, noting how McLean uses Van Gogh’s artwork as his inspiration.

  7. Point out the songwriter’s perspective in writing this piece is to directly address the artist.

  8. Ask students to re-read the lyrics in their packet, this time noting poetic devices they find. Students may mark the text (underlining, starring, notetaking, etc.) as they re-read.

  9. Students then share their findings with the class, noting examples of devices such as rhyme, alliteration, repetition, etc.

  10. Encourage them to add to their notes during the discussion. Point out literary devices students may have missed (tone, for example).

Session Two

  1. Introduce the term ekphrasis and define its meaning—“writing inspired by art.”

  2. Take a few minutes to have students explain how “Vincent” is like an ekphrastic poem and therefore offers a good preview of their own analysis of ekphrastic poetry.

  3. Mention that students will have the chance to write ekphrastic poems of their own after analyzing several as a class.

  4. Share several ekphrastic poems and accompanying artwork on the overhead or LCD projector as students follow along in their packets.

  5. Refer to the Websites listed in the Resources section for examples. Alternatively, read aloud from Paint Me a Poem: Poems Inspired by Masterpieces of Art, by Justine Rowden, (Boyds Mills, 2005) or Heart to Heart: New Poems Inspired by Twentieth-Century American Art, edited by Jan Greenberg (Abrams, 2001).

  6. As you read each poem, have students mark the text for poetic devices (or take notes as you read) as they did in response to “Vincent.”

  7. Lead a discussion of each poem, noting the various perspectives poets take towards the artwork as well as the poetic devices they use (e.g., sound devices such as alliteration, metaphors or similes, rhyme, imagery, etc).

Session Three

  1. Introduce and discuss the ekphrastic poetry booklet, and distribute the Perspectives in Writing Ekphrastic Poetry handout, the Ekphrastic Poetry Booklet Checklist, and the Prewriting Chart.

  2. Display an overhead transparency of the Ekphrastic Poetry Booklet Rubric (or pass out copies for students to use), and explain the connections between the checklist and the rubric.

  3. Have students use the Websites listed in the Resources section to search for artwork they find intriguing.

  4. As students select artwork, they should complete the Prewriting Chart.

Sessions Four through Seven

  1. Allow students time to draft a series of poems about the pieces of artwork they have chosen.

  2. As the class works, circulate through the room and briefly conference with students as they complete their first poems. Make sure that students’ first poems reflect an understanding of the assignment before they complete the remainder of the series.

  3. Students may wish to conference individually with the teacher or ask their peers for feedback as they write and revise the remainder of their series.

Session Eight

  1. Students should finish final revisions and editing of their poems.

  2. Lead students through the tutorial included in the ReadWriteThink Printing Press.

  3. Allow students time to assemble their poems into booklets, using the ReadWriteThink Printing Press.

  4. Teachers may wish to add sessions for peer response, revision, and sharing of the finished poetry booklets.

Extensions

Student Assessment / Reflections

 

Elizabeth Nepaial
K-12 Teacher
I am going to use these resources to enhance my Image-Making in the Writing Process (Beth Olshansky) unit for my 7th and 8th graders in my Creative Thinking class!
Elizabeth Nepaial
K-12 Teacher
I am going to use these resources to enhance my Image-Making in the Writing Process (Beth Olshansky) unit for my 7th and 8th graders in my Creative Thinking class!
Elizabeth Nepaial
K-12 Teacher
I am going to use these resources to enhance my Image-Making in the Writing Process (Beth Olshansky) unit for my 7th and 8th graders in my Creative Thinking class!

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