for EN 455

Ekphrastic poetry is poetry written in response to a work of art, such as a painting, photograph, or musical composition.

For this prompt, go to the Museum of Modern Art’s online collection, accessible here. The Collection includes more than 45,000 works that you can view online with a click of the button. If there is a particular artist, medium, or artistic period that interests you, be sure to utilize the Search Filter feature. Find a work of art that truly compels you and write an ekphrastic poem inspired by the piece. You can also choose to write a poem inspired by one of the supplemental paintings below.

When it’s time to use this prompt with Exclusive Ink, we will provide several books of artwork for the Shortridge students to browse. Help guide your student to a work of art that really speaks to her/him. Have the student write an ekphrastic poem inspired by the piece.


Jean-Michel Basquiat Riding with Death

riding-with-deathKevin Young “Riding with Death”

The bit
of bones beneath
him, reined—

he mounts
1/2 bleached back—

a brown body out-
lined on linen.

too through
with this merry-

go-round—the clowns—
the giant stuffed
animals to win

or take your picture
with—the pony rides
& overpriced

food. There’s always
a unicycle.
His hands turned

forks, tuning,
feeding what hunger
held him together

this long. Trawling
his own stomach.
Tripe. The snipe hunt

he’s begun has come
up empty—left holding
the bag—trick,

nickel—the cat’s
gotten out, crossed
the path. Curious—

his horse
turned back
from our fox hunt,

this possum run.
Given in—SAMO©

CLAUSE—found face
like a payment.

And we who for ages
whaled, blubber
& wonder

why he’s thrown
ashore, rowed
himself, here

out the blue
whale some unseen

call. A siren—
the ambulance
racing a sea

of cars—emergency—
family only
beyond this

point—our fists
against his breath-
less chest.

Vincent Van Gough The Starry Night

970px-Van_Gogh_-_Starry_Night_-_Google_Art_ProjectAnne Sexton “The Starry Night”

That does not keep me from having a terrible need of—shall I say the word—religion. Then I go out at night to paint the stars—Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to his brother

The town does not exist
except where one black-haired tree slips
up like a drowned woman into the hot sky.
The town is silent. The night boils with eleven stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die.

It moves. They are all alive.
Even the moon bulges in its orange irons
to push children, like a god, from its eye.
The old unseen serpent swallows up the stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die:

into that rushing beast of the night,
sucked up by that great dragon, to split
from my life with no flag,
no belly,
no cry.

Edvard Munch The Scream
















Monica Youn “Stealing The Scream

It was hardly a high-tech operation, stealing The Scream.
That we know for certain, and what was left behind–
a store-bought ladder, a broken window,
and fifty-one seconds of videotape, abstract as an overture.

And the rest? We don’t know. But we can envision
moonlight coming in through the broken window,
casting a bright shape over everything–the paintings,
the floor tiles, the velvet ropes: a single, sharp-edged pattern;

the figure’s fixed hysteria rendered suddenly ironic
by the fact of something happening; houses
clapping a thousand shingle hands to shocked cheeks
along the road from Oslo to Asgardstrand;

the guards rushing in–too late!–greeted only
by the gap-toothed smirk of the museum walls;
and dangling from the picture wire like a baited hook,
a postcard: “Thanks for the poor security.”

The policemen, lost as tourists, stand whispering
in the galleries: “. . .but what does it all mean?”
Someone has the answers, someone who, grasping the frame,
saw his sun-red face reflected in that familiar boiling sky.