The AVBOB Poetry Competition | How Exploring Various Art Forms Might Transform Your Poems

How Exploring Various Art Forms Might Transform Your Poems

Artistic expression is not reserved for those maestros who formally studied Fine Arts, or the famous names scrawled on paintings that adorn the walls of the Louvre Museum. Artists can be found anywhere, selling their crafts along a dusty street of a township, crocheting an intricate doily in the bedroom of an old age home, or taking beautiful photographs of their smiling children.

As humans, living to create is in and of itself meaningful. It does not come as a surprise then that out-of-the-box thinkers manage to interweave various art forms. Because poetry is so adept at capturing the essence of human experiences, it only makes sense that so many poems are inspired by a different art form. Here, we look at examples of this throughout the recent history of poetry and how you can also integrate artistic production into your written art.

Poems Inspired by Paintings

Greek Middle Platonist philosopher and biographer, Plutarch, famously said, “Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks.”. This further lends to the idea that the arts move with fluidity in and out of each other. Paintings provide a profound source of inspiration for poems, as many are created to tell a story, evoke an emotion, or reimagine real-world visuals.

Poems that describe a scene or work of art are known as ekphrastic poems, and Anne Sexton’s “The Starry Night” is a perfect example of this style of poetry. In her poem, Sexton uses Van Gogh’s famed painting, Starry Night, to express her interpretation of the artwork and its meaning to her. She uses words such as “alive”, “moves”, “boils” and “rushing” to create stormy movement, which serves to expand upon the violent motion and turmoil she perceives in the painting.

Visiting the Past Through Photography

Photography is not just an art form; it is a fascinating peek into a single moment captured in time. Unlike other visual art forms, photography relies more heavily on reality and leaves the viewer with a broader opportunity to interpret the image as they see fit. Like other visual art forms, photography has also been used to inspire poetry throughout the ages, as we see in Margaret Atwood’s free verse, “This is a Photograph of Me”.

Atwood toys with the idea of photography’s time-travelling abilities to describe a landscape snapshot of a small house, low hills, and a lake. We then discover the photograph was taken the day after the ghostly narrator drowned in the lake, their body just somewhere under the surface of the water. What begins as a hazy, unclear photograph is made clear by the narrator, pushing further the idea that even a photograph of “reality’ relies on human perception.

The Muse of Music and Dance

Music has always been intertwined with poems – just look at how lyrics seamlessly play into a melody. Many musicians have also been praised for their poetic abilities, such as Bob Dylan, Tupac Shakur, and Leonard Cohen. Apart from these master lyricists, dance is another visual and auditory art form that can awaken a poem, as the graceful rhythm and movement stir one’s soul to creative description.

Spanish poet Federico García Lorca writes a pining piece that illustrates the sound of a guitar’s song in “The Guitar”. The melody sounds like wailing to the speaker, who mentions the guitar’s weeping several times. Likely describing a Spanish vihuela guitar with five strings, the poet ends his piece with the lines, “Oh, guitar! / Heart mortally wounded / by five swords.”. This is a poem of loss of hope, and longing for unreachable things, a feeling that music conjures up in Lorca.

The Genius of Film and Television

Modern human beings have become so accustomed to the easy access to film and television, it is easy to forget the brilliant artistry involved in each movie or show’s production. Scriptwriting, cinematography, make-up and costume design, and stage production are all art forms working together to rouse the viewer.

The brutal poem “Two Deaths” by Elizabeth Jennings describes violence, destruction, and the narrator’s own privilege at never having witnessed such suffering in her own life. “It was only a film,” the poem begins, as it spirals down to describe its ruthless impact on the psyche of the poet while she lives herself into the on-screen pain.

No matter which art form inspires you, you can allow it to imbue your poems with all the emotion, beauty, or pain it awakens in you.

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