An ekphrastic challenge from Steven Withrow

Steven Withrow and daughter

Steaming StreetsHi everyone,

Our friend Steven Withrow likes to write poems inspired by art. Here’s a new challenge from him with an example of how he gets motivated.

David, recently, my family and I spent time at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum in Providence. I could barely pull myself away from the canvases of George Wesley Bellows (1882-1925), an Ohio painter of the realist Ashcan School. Steaming Streets (1908) is possibly my favorite of his paintings, and I wrote the following poem to share in its presence and implied motion.

Had the Draft Horses in George Bellows’s Steaming Streets

understood they’d be foregrounding history,
or, with their rough-brushed musculatures,

lifted their hind hooves slick through sludge
of Winter 1908, by the ashcan calendar,

blearing a fog-wrapped tramcar’s tracks,
no doubt the nearer one, black as a bilge rat,

still would have thrust his haltered head
into the froth of his own cold breath,

as the child in the sleet-white kerchief watched
as the latched pair dragged their dray-less driver on.


If you’d like to try an ekphrastic poem of your own, please choose a work of visual art and share your accompanying poem along with a link to the original work. You may take any approach you wish, but the poem should, ideally, add something to the experience of the visual work rather than merely describing what is evident.

–Steven Withrow

Steven, thank you for the beautiful poem and great challenge. Heads up everyone. Find a picture or photo and climb inside it. Ekphrastic poems are favorites of mine too. Here’s one I shared last year for an art-poetry exhibit in Oxford, Pennsylvania. Artist Paula Graham painted a beautiful picture of fish and I supplied the poem.

Paula Graham 3Paula Graham 2Paula Graham 1

by David L. Harrison

Lean down,
the satin line
that separates us from

them, dwellers of the blue world,
slender darts suspended
earth and sky

where I, were I able,
might choose now and then
to plunge in and exchange
friendly bubbles
of fishy gossip.

B.J. Lee has a poem with picture to share so I’m adding them to the post. Thanks, B.J.

BJLee picture

Root Beer

In summer
icy root beer floats
are pleasing

In winter
icy root beer flows
are freezing

copyright 2009 B. J. Lee


Thank you, Madeleine Kuderick and son, for the following ekphrastic poem inspired by Ben, age 10.

Madeleine Kuderick's son


The sky is blue.

The trees are green.

But what if somewhere in between

there was a world way up high

where lizards floated in the sky?

And no one said –

You don’t belong!

Or –

Flying lizards are just wrong!

Instead, they let the lizard be

and let him see what he might see.

Then maybe he would start to sing

and feel just like a lizard king.

I bet he could do anything!

Where lizards fly and words don’t sting.

And God would like the song he sung

and let him catch clouds on his tongue.

Sometimes I want to fly there too.

Where skies are green and leaves are blue.


And now, ladies and gentlemen, we have a new offering that just arrived from B.J. Lee. Read and enjoy.

Bird on the Brain
By B.J. Lee

Bird on the Brain

A bird on the brain can be one great big pain.
If it stays very long, a cat could go insane.

Once bird takes residence inside your mind,
you may as well leave other thoughts far behind

Let’s say you just want to sit dreaming of fish.
With bird on the brain, you won’t get your wish.

The bird can be quite difficult to dislodge,
since he makes all your thoughts one complete bird hodgepodge.

You’ll think robins and sparrows, canaries and pewees,
parakeets, goldfinches, blue jays, and chickadees.

Take it from me. I’ve been there before.
There is only one way to get bird out the door.

You have to be stubborn, unyielding and firm.
You have to keep at him till he starts to squirm.

Tell him you’re in on his little bird schemes.
Tell him to stop messing up your fish dreams.

Tell him, instead of fish, he’ll be your snack.
He’ll then fly the coop and he will not come back

(at least until the next time).