Ever seen a painting so beautiful you can’t stop talking about it? Maybe you even hang a picture of it in your house and point it out to everyone who visits. That’s what many poets did, too! They found a work of art that they loved and told everyone by writing a poem about it. Today’s teatime celebrates that beautiful combination of art and poetry. You’ll have a chance to explore poems based on artwork, decorate artistically, and try writing some art-based poetry for yourself!
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When poets write about a work of art, those poems are called ekphrastic poems. Ekphrastic poetry can be written about a painting, a photograph, a sculpture, or even a work of architecture! For a fun example of ekphrastic art, check out this collaboration between poet Irene Latham and her nine-year-old niece.
Let’s begin our exploration of art and poetry with an excerpt from John Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” which describes an ancient Greek vase that Keats saw in a museum. If you want to study the full poem, you may want to use this guide from English with a Smile.
From “Ode on a Grecian Urn”
By John Keats
...O Attic* shape! Fair attitude! with brede** *from Athens **braided design
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!* *countryside setting
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
As Keats demonstrates, poets are inspired by the work of art, but they don’t limit themselves to just describing that artwork. Instead, they add to it.
Keep reading for some ways to add your own twist to the combination of art and poetry during your teatime today!
Art & Poetry Activities
Sharing Pictures: Have everyone print out and bring a picture (or show it on a computer screen). Go around in a circle and share what you love about that picture and why you chose to share it. If you’d like, follow the next step to write a poem based on that picture!
Write an ekphrastic poem: You’ll need to choose a work of art and then write a poem based on that artwork. Learn to write an ekphrastic poem using this post on Poetry Teatime!
Blackout & collage poetry: Grab a stack of old newspapers and magazines and distribute them to everyone. Hand out scissors or pens and start picking out your favorite phrases. If you’re working on a blackout poem, follow these steps from Poetry Teatime. If you’d like to go for a collage poem, cut out the words and images you want and glue them into the order you want on a blank page!
Concrete poetry: Doodle shapes like hearts, flowers, clouds, or even a car or house. Then, write a poem that fits the space you’ve drawn. For more on concrete poetry, check out this post on Poetry Teatime.
“Telephone” art and poetry: Did you ever play the whispering game “telephone”? Here’s an artistic version of that game! Each person will need a stack of blank paper and whatever art supplies they want. Have each person at the table begin by drawing or painting something on a piece of paper. It doesn’t have to be great! Then, pass the work of art to the next person and have them write a poem based on that work of art. After that, hand just the poem to the next person and create a new drawing or painting based on the poem, without looking at the original artwork. Keep going around the circle until you get back to the first person. Compare the first piece of art with the final poem or artwork and see how much it has changed!
Artistic Food, Drinks, and Decorations
Paint your cookies: It may not be the Christmas season, but you can still brush up on your artistic skills by painting cookies! Use this recipe from She Wears Many Hats for an egg yolk and food coloring “paint” to transform your cookies into works of art!
Tea bag tablecloths: Use a large piece of butcher paper as a “tablecloth” or smaller pieces of paper as “placemats.” Get a package of different herbal teas like berry, peach, and blueberry. Put the teabags into a little bit of hot water, then either use a paintbrush and dip it into the colored water to “paint,” or carefully take out the teabags and move them around the paper to make your designs.
Decorate with paint chips: Next time you’re in the painting aisle of a store, grab a bunch of paint chips. You can place them on the table as a centerpiece or make a garland following these steps from PopSugar. You can even write a paint chip poem following these directions from Teach for America!
Colorful backdrops: If you want to add a pop of color to your teatime, make a backdrop by hanging up a mix of colored streamers or a few colorful party tablecloths! Use this art birthday party from Makoodle for inspiration.
Rainbow fruit and drinks: For teatime treats, try serving colorful fruits and veggies arranged in a rainbow (you can even use kebab skewers if you’re feeling fancy!). Serve herbal teas, juices, or colorful sodas to add some artsy-looking drinks to your teatime, too.
Poetry Books about Art
Heart to Heart: New Poems Inspired by Twentieth Century American Art, edited by Jan Greenberg
Paint Me a Poem: Poems Inspired by Masterpieces of Art, by Justine Rowden
National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry: More than 200 Poems With Photographs That Float, Zoom, and Bloom!, edited by J. Patrick Lewis
Side By Side: New Poems Inspired By Art From Around the World, edited by Jan Greenberg
Words with Wings: A Treasury of African-American Poetry and Art, by Belinda Rochelle
Poetry Books about Artists
The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist, by Margarita Engle
Frida: ¡Viva la vida! Long Live Life!, by Carmen Bernier-Grand
Self-Portrait With Seven Fingers: The Life of Marc Chagall in Verse, by J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen
Diego: Bigger Than Life, by Carmen Bernier-Grand