A traditional ekphrastic poem describes or responds to a piece of art. It’s cool and fun and you should feel free to try it sometime. But! What would it be like to describe a piece of art—specifically, a photograph—that doesn’t yet exist?
I grew up flipping through my family’s heavy, tattered photo albums, stuffed with pictures of basically every important moment in our family history since we first got hold of a camera: weddings, birthdays, and always the first day of school.
We’re taking more photos than ever these days, but no longer printing them as often. So this week’s Creative Prompt is to imagine a series of photographs and describe them through poetry. Think of it as a photo album that someone further down the line will flip through and learn from the surrounding stories.
My favorite example of this form is Warsan Shire’s poem, “Photographs of Hooyo,” from her chapbook Her Blue Body. Here are some excerpts:
“Hooyo holding negatives up to the sunlight
singing Magool under her breath.
1990, Harlesden, London”
“Hooyo singing her own Somali/English version
of Tracy Chapman’s ‘Mountains O’things’
as the henna dries.
1996, Harlesden, London”
What moments that have already happened would you describe? What moments that haven’t happened (yet) would you describe? Like:
“Safia dressed in purple silk
having her hair braided by Prince
the smell of freshly baked bread
invisible but filling the room”
You decide for yourself if that moment happened or not! Then please send your poems—along with your first name, last initial, age, and location—to [email protected] with the subject line “Creative Prompt” by Monday, May 30 at 6 PM EST.
Last week, we asked you to envision yourself waking up in a completely unfamiliar environment. Here’s how you fared in the wilderness of your own making…
Safia Elhillo’s first full-length poetry collection, The January Children, is forthcoming from University of Nebraska Press in 2017. Sudanese by way of Washington, D.C., a Cave Canem fellow and poetry editor at Kinfolks Quarterly: a journal of black expression, she received an MFA in poetry at the New School. Safia is a Pushcart Prize nominee, co-winner of the 2015 Brunel University African Poetry Prize, and winner of the 2016 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets. In addition to appearing in several journals and anthologies including The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop, her work has been translated into Arabic and Greek.