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Ekphrasis for Edward Hopper

April 2018

I have been a longtime admirer of the haiga which combines haiku poems, calligraphy and painting. Haiga (俳画, haikai drawing) is a style of Japanese painting that incorporates the aesthetics of haikai.

They were typically painted by haiku poets (haijin), and are often accompanied by a haiku poem. The paintings, like the poetic form it accompanied, were simple observations of the everyday world.

Poets have frequently been inspired by art - paintings, sculpture and other forms. The name of this kind of poetry is ekphrasis.

Ekphrasis means "description" in Greek and older ekphrastic poems tend to focus on sometimes elaborate descriptions of the art. An example of this is Keat's "Ode on a Grecian Urn." John Keats does go beyond description in his speculation on the identity of the lovers who appear to dance and play music on that urn.

For this month's writing prompt, we set two restrictions on your poem. First, we are interested in poems that go beyond description. Be a poet who interprets, inhabits, confronts, speaks to and reflects on the "action" of a painting and amplifies or expands its meaning.

Our second parameter is that you use a painting or drawing by American artist Edward Hopper. He is one of the most popular of modern American artists and some of his paintings have been widely used, reproduced, even parodied.

Hopper art is easy to find online. I suggest taking a look at's collection of almost 200 of his works. You'll see his very famous Sunday Morning and Nighthawks, but I suggest you might choose one of his lesser known paintings or drawings.

His painting Gas (shown here) suggests so many stories: Where is that Mobil station? How different was a gas station in that time? Who is that man - owner, worker? What mood does the poem suggest? Who just left the station after filling up?

You might also look at his paintings grouped together by themes or motifs that inhabit his work, such as couples or windows.

You will not be the first poets to use Hopper. Our two model poems are  "Edward Hopper and the House by the Railroad (1925)" by Edward Hirsch.  and "Edward Hopper Study: Hotel Room" by Victoria Chang.

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.

Burly Cobb Hen Coop and Barn by Edward Hopper

I know this place, its summer sunburn.
Grasses waving ripe seed-heads to ignite
the land from where our watcher stands,
this hill falling in folds of spent earth-
fabric, its pattern of coop and shed, barn
and house; a stringer of sun-struck trees –
maybe willow – above the shadow-gray
of haze or water. There’s another land
on the far side, rising in bumps and blister
under the same summer sun. Over there,
earth lies as golden-brown as ground
at the watcher’s feet. There’s nowhere
else to go but sun or shadow. This is
how we live, angled into our dwellings
among the soft contours of scrub-
bushes gloried with sun, finding this
beauty in the stark truth of art,
and how the earth goes on living.

Taylor Graham

after Edward Hopper's Boy and Moon

Black seagulls shrieking wheeling round in space
Rent open the dim curtains of the night
That wound about his dull and dreamless sleep
The boy sat bolt upright in bed and faced
What used to be the window but was now
A vista where the wall was torn away
A picture hung upon its jagged edge\
Unseen to us his gaping eyes stared out
Upon the rocky shore that writhed with night
The full moon was reflected in the stream
The orb itself arose from the far shore
A seagull’s wingtip pointed at the moon
As though to say look here this is your dream
Become as real as life and death and sleep

Lee Evans

Inspired by the Edward Hopper painting by the same name

Standing motionless, daylight turns twilight, he watches
her walk into the edge of darkness.
She spoke to him of a love
made from the fume of her sighs.
He, wordless, but for those already spoken.

Kenneth Ronkowitz


You thought so little of it
When growing up in a better part
Of Brooklyn, the city of churches.
It was just an old fashioned bridge
Neither poetic or remarkable
Yet it figured in your life
In different ways at different times,
I am old, I remember my mother
Boasting of the three cent trolley
Instead of the usual nickel fare,
Cause the ride on the bridge was so much shorter.
When at Stuyvesant, one of the kids
Who lived on the lower East Side
Told of filming of Jules Dassin, ‘Naked City’,
With the chase on the walkway over the car lanes
With the buildings that Hopper painted.
With the old law tenements as plain background.
“They told us to dress shabby, that’s what’s
The people in the rest of world expect of us.”
To escape from home, I pedaled my Rudge bike
Over, almost knocking over a pious Jew
Visiting with his rabbi on the Lower East Side.
It was an easy ride but there was a flight of stairs
Maybe fourteen to carry my bike up.,
The bridge is a prop, like a gun on a mantel
As the now vanished tenements were props
Recently I walked there, almost skipping with an actress
For a skyline view in all directions.
We talked of conflicts. I thought of the picture
No drama in the painting’s static features.
I had an argument with my date
About when ‘the Naked City’.appeared
Whether it was a “film noir”, one of the first
Where detectives shot in a real location
And how with the strong light of the fading sun
Is reflected in mysterious windows.
We agreed, with the film’s last line
There are eight million stories, in the city
Being lost and found and lost again each day
With this changing bridge as witness.

Edward Halperin


Fully clothed, hands slack between his knees,
brow furrowed, he sits on the bed staring at

the floor illuminated by morning light
from the louvered window on his left.

Next to him an open book, as though laid
thoughtlessly aside so he can ponder what

he’s read, its truth, the beauty of its style,
the eternal message handed down.

Behind him lies a woman with red hair
in a pink chemise, turned toward the wall,

legs bent in a cone of light, uncovered,
casually revealing her bare bottom.

Is it Plato or Saint Augustine that he reads?
The Symposium? or perhaps the Confessions?

Does carnal love lead to love of beauty,
its timeless form a ladder upward? Or must

we rise above the flesh to gain the calm
of saints, to sit at the right hand of God?

So many questions stir the mind, so much
for one to ponder who opens such a book.

The woman on the bed sleeps.

Robert Miller


Here you are next to me
On the bed we once shared
When we shared ourselves and our lives
We face away from each other
You silently rehearsing your apology
While I feign sleep
My thoughts journey elsewhere
Eyes closed, breathing deeply
Wishing you’d just go
And leave me to my book
Books like dogs- Ask little
Unlike men, unlike life
Their words sustain me
While yours cut me down
So hang your sorry head
And weary shoulders
Keep from me your cold, stained hands
Leave me to the sun
Its invisible warmth
Upon my invisible body
And matching wounds
Indeed there is nothing new under the sun
Not here, not this, not us
We are told the sun sets for prophets
And rises for both the good and evil
So I wonder - is it wickedness that weighs you down?
And hunches your back
Like the weight upon this mattress
Like the air in this room
Heavy, oppressing
Buoyed by fatigue and resentment
So sit there if you must
Let the sun wash over you
Over disappointment and success
Over the sadness and solitude
Nurtured so well and so long
Like a weed in the garden
Crushing all beauty and promise before it
It is oft said you must first love yourself
If you are to love another - But what of that other?
What thought have we ever spared this other?
I tire of waiting and worse still – of my own lack of self regard
Plato said that love is both resourceful and needy
I cannot revive what you have killed
But I can, must, give life to something new
So leave - take your murderous confessions
Echoes of words bearing no meaning
And if as Plato said love is born into us all
Then surely its mate must exist in us too
You are no longer my missing half
You have killed both eros and philia
Plato would be half pleased
Though I wonder about his apologia for his old master –
Was it rooted in some stubborn eros after all?
But artists are not philosophers
I have for you no defense, no dialogue
My words as silent as the shadows upon the floor
Examine yourself, your life
Find solace in your paints and brushes
Seek forgiveness where you will
But you will not find it here again
I absolve you of nothing
Not here in this bed nor under this sun
Not ever

Terri J. Guttilla

Inspired by the painting Cape Cod Morning by Edward Hopper

No ocean but trees and dry grass
that might be seen as waves.

She looks for him,
still not returned

from the night
after they argued.

He is east of her,
and may or may not

be traveling west.

Pamela Milne


Running down a mountain pass
The wind it batters sore
And secret whispers rouse the grass
Of long-forgotten lore.

If only I could reach that place
And rest upon those hills
It may be I could see the face
That all the world fills

The lore once lost would yet be known
And I would see at last
The face that turned my world to stone
And vanished in the past.

R.S. Bremner


This is no painting for a home.
It would be draining to live with
This solitary man,
Staring through diffused light
At the dark offices below;

Blueprints on his desk
For more blank buildings like the one he’s in,
Schematics for brick and block
Stretching to a grey vanishing point.
In another age, this perspective

Was reserved for an angel
Watching over its charge;
Now, it’s a voyeur in the nearby building,
Using binoculars to console himself.
No, this painting will not do for a home,

Where there should be a beach scene
With lovers’ footprints on the sand
Between turquoise waters and red bougainvilleas;
Or one of a beautiful woman
In a flowing amber gown,

Playing the violin for her lover
In a garden rioting with spring.
This painting is best hung in a museum
Where it can do little harm.

Ron Yazinski

Inspired by Edward Hopper's The Automat

She owned it. The corner table
by the beveled window separating
her from the black, empty night.
Another long evening of waiting.
Sitting perfectly still, her yellow
felt hat tipped slightly. Her eyes
avoiding all others. She peered into
her coffee, quickly glanced at her
wristwatch, glistening under the
lights, like distant stars. Her mind,

Marie A. Mennuto-Rovello

Inspired by Edward Hopper's painting Compartment Car

Away from the window,
ignoring the passing river
moving in the opposite direction
like time in a thought experiment,

she puts aside the book of poems
and pages a magazine
glancing at photos and headlines
trying not to think

about why she is dressed in black
and where time and the train
will take her now.

Lianna Wright