poem index

Poems Based on Works of Art

A poem based on a picture or work of art is called an ekphrasis. Though the term literally references the descriptive aspect of ekphrastic writing, the poet Alfred Corn states in his essay on the history of ekphrastic verse, "Once the ambition of producing a complete and accurate description is put aside, a poem can provide new aspects for a work of visual art."

Examples include: The Shield of Achilles by W. H. Auden, Landscape With The Fall of Icarus by William Carlos Williams, Stealing The Scream by Monica Youn, and Joseph Cornell, with Box by Michael Dumanis.

In an interview, Mary Jo Bang described her own approach to ekphrastic poems: "I am taking an existing work of art and rewriting over it. I'm imposing a new narrative on it, one that is partially suggested by the artwork itself and partially by something that comes from within. Sometimes that thing is an autobiographical moment, sometimes it's a larger concern, social or political or intellectual."


Write a poem in three stanzas that is based on an image or work of art. In the first stanza, focus solely on description. In the following stanzas, take your own approach: you can continue to describe, impose a narrative on the scene, or reveal something about yourself or the artist. In revision, pay careful attention represent all of the senses in your description.