An Ekphrastic Challenge
for the Autumn 2015 issue

Have you ever stood in front of a painting in a museum and been inspired to write a poem? "Ekphrasis" is a Greek word that refers to describing a work of art, real or imaginary. An early example is Homer's detailed account of the imagery on Achilles' shield (Iliad, Book XVIII); among the more recent poems you would know might be Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn" or the poems by W. H. Auden and William Carlos Williams that were inspired by Pieter Bruegel's "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus".

Basically, an ekphrastic poem represents the encounter between artistic sensibilities, that of the poet confronting that of the artist, and may follow any number of approaches beyond descriptive exercise as the ancients conceived it. The poem may interpret, meditate or address the image as reflect personal subjective response, or it may be creative, even fictional, assuming the voice of a character in the art work or the imagined voice of the artist.

To help you in writing your own entry for our Challenge, here are a few suggestions, guidelines and requirements:

  • Strictly speaking, ekphrastic writing could be inspired by any work of art in any medium—including music or other literature—but it generally means writing to a work of visual art. For the Ekphrastic Challenge, we're going to narrow it still further: For your source image, please choose a work of visual art in any medium that is in a museum or public collection.

  • Of course the art work must be one that inspires you, but we also must be able to display an image or at least a thumbnail of it on the page with your response. In other words, it should be in the Public Domain or licensed under Creative Commons. Wikimedia Commons is an excellent resource that can help you assess the status of an image under US and international Copyright law. When you submit your challenge entry, please cite the museum or collection and give the URL so we may provide a link.

  • If you haven't tried ekphrasis before and are wondering where to begin, read the Academy of American Poets, Poetry Foundation, and the ever-useful Wikipedia. The Education Department of the Smithsonian Museum of American Art has an online high school level lesson plan for an ekphrastic poetry activity, including a handout with prompts and questions. Another lesson plan may be found online at Read Write Think.

  • In addition to haiku, any of the haiku-related short forms such as senryu, tanka, short haibun, tan renga or rengay should work well for the Challenge.

  • You may place you text on the image if you like (do respect whatever licensing conditions the copyright holder imposes), but it may be better to send us text and image separately. We'll display text and image along side each other on the page, like photo haiku rather than haiga.

  • Apart from the source image, your own writing should be unpublished and not under consideration for publication elsewhere. This includes not only publication in online and print journals but also works displayed where others can access them on social media, personal web pages, blogs, and at online workshop groups and forums.

  • You may submit as many entries as you like, but we will be accepting one from each submitter.

  • The Deadline for submissions is 31 July 2015. Please put "Ekphrastic challenge" in your subject header and email submissions to the editor at

    paplinda at

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