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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Ekphrasis

Ekphrasis poetry is a verbal description on a visual work of art. Essentially poems have been written about art. Think about how when you are in a museum and all of a sudden you are inspired to write. One art form inspires another, perhaps. This is a lesson I have used for this exercise. The scholars read Ovid's "The Story of Daedalus and Icarus" and then view The Fall of Icarus by Peter Brueghel the Elder.I ask the scholars to find where the poet and artist have similarities and differences. Ekphrasis poetry is also a good way to teach allegory.


The importance of an exercise like this is that we can tap into the multiple intelligences of our scholars. As teachers we are able to bring another art form into our classrooms and use it to inspire writing. We can take our scholars to a local museum and ask them to find a painting they like and write a poem about it. We can cruise the Internet to find art and then have the scholars write about it. Here is a site that presents poetry about art. Many more websites exist that deal with Ekphrasis. We have seen how haiku uses the senses to capture that which surrounds us in nature. Ekphrasis poetry connects the visual arts and poetry.

In the September 2006 issue of English Journal, Honor Moorman wrote about how she connects poetry and art in "Backing into Ekphrasis: Reading and Writing Poetry about Visual Art." She provides a good introduction to the Ekphrasis poem with familiar pieces of art used by poets, such as the shield of Achilles by Homer.
What do John Keats, W. H. Auden, Anne Sexton, and my ninth-grade students have in common? They have all written ekphrastic poetry. Ekphrastic poetry, or poetry inspired by visual art, has a well-established history dating back to Homer’s description of the Shield of Achilles in The Iliad. Its popularity in the Romantic period was marked by Keats’s quintessential “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Twentieth-century examples include Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts” inspired by Pieter Breughel the Elder’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus and Sexton’s “The Starry Night” inspired by Vincent Van Gogh’s painting of the same name (DiYanni 587, 584; “Ecphrasis”).

She also provides some good examples of poems and art examples. She utilizes a process for her scholars in class and shares that with the reader. She describes the power of the Ekphrasis poetry lesson well.
This lesson appealed to the students’ multiple intelligences and diverse learning styles and gave them opportunities to engage in higher-order thinking through analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. In the pre–field trip lesson, they practiced comprehension strategies such as questioning, rereading, annotation, word study, visualizing, summarizing, and reading with fluency. At the museum, they engaged in close reading, analysis, interpretation, and descriptive as well as imaginative writing.
The article is an excellent resource for all teachers interested in the Ekphrasis poem. Whether you are near an art museum or not, prints of paintings put up on the walls of the classroom or locating art from any number of web sites will provide your scholars with an abundance of inspiration and fun.

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