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Phillipe Halsman, one of the greatest portrait photographers, called his approach "psychological portraiture" - comparing his work to that of a good psychologist who regards his subjects with a special insight to reveal the character of his sitters.

E.A. Robinson is also remembered for his portraits of American characters. " RICHARD CORY ", one of his best known poems (partially because it was adapted by Paul Simon and recorded by Simon & Garfunkel) is a good example of this style.

The character in a setting and pose that reveals something of the person. The obvious photograph is one we see at first. Then the details - the hands, the desktop, a foreground figure - emerge and something else is revealed. The sharp-focused portrait of Richard Cory ends with the ironic twist - what picture do we see of Richard Cory? Probably the formal portrait that would run in the local paper the next day.

Create a portrait poem, trying to clearly focus on a person (real or imagined) and through setting & detail reveal the hidden portrait.

See portraits by Phillipe Halsman @ The National Portrait Gallery

Remembering My Mother

I'm sitting at my mother's bedside.
She may be gone by the next full moon
or even the next sunset,
so I'm trying to memorize her.

Reverently, I place my hand on her soft belly,
a brief home within its quiet darkness
a long time ago,
that became the lap I crawled into
for comfort
or a story,
and where I laid my head and wept
over struggles with my daughter.

I stroke her hand,
sturdy bones beneath fragile rice-paper skin,
that once felt cool on my fevered forehead,
that sewed my doll clothes
and stitched my bridal gown,
with the funny crooked thumb
she said she got from kneading dough
300 strokes for Polish poppy seed cake.

I gaze at her old-young face
seeing traces of myself in the cheekbones
or is it in the eyes that search mine,
asking questions
I can only answer by
wrapping my arms around her frail shoulders
which can no longer carry
the burdens of this world;

and I inhale deeply her mother-essence
so that when she's gone
she will be the prayer I breathe
night and day.

Barbara Whitehill


it was her eyes
two worlds bright blue
so full of life
and her skin
soft like velvet
to the touch
or her hair
falling round her face
resting lightly on her shoulders
like spun gold
those lips red an full
sometimes pouting
sometimes smiling
often laughing
it was her from
the first moment
i saw her
i would have known her
had i been blind

ray cutshaw

Has Anyone Seen This Boy?

From the beginning his eyes were endless eyes:
magic blue that formed an imploding sphere
catching him up in wonder.
Thirsty from the start,
they nursed at the liquid blue breasts
of his mother’s eyes,
Bleeding the milk of her thoughts,
returning the warmth of his need
with the vision of a marvel beyond words.

Using his eyes to suck up
information and intent,
he is puzzled when others need
implementing media to communicate.
Always a burden to him,
words have remained
only a by-product of his thirst
- a virtually unused cache
in the reservoir of his mind.

His wonder is as fragile
as the inside of a Christmas bulb.
Any alien vibration
is a shattering peril
against which his body
constantly builds parapets.

Today he trusts few to enter his world
through the new man-eyes
with their seven veils:
of hair, heavy brows, lashes,
scorn, suspicion, self-defense,
and films of indifference;
but his feeding continues
as he hungrily draws the outer universe
into the inner, brooding mirror
of his mind.

Catherine LeGault

Two or Three Things I Know About Her

As the sonnet makes its turn
I begin to wonder-
Fourteen years from now
when she is thirty-five,
will she recognize herself
slipping into my poems?
Her green eyes, the gray hair
she had at twenty-one,
her Irish poets and French films.
Will she remember my song,
show my poems to her lover,
read my words again,
as you are reading them now
and discover us kissing in the dark?

Charles Michaels

For Richard

I see you in the woods.
A distant mountain,
a foreground stream,
a sheet of sky.
You are there -
a single white hood on the trail
beside a lake.
A Forest Service plane
drops a silver cloud of fish.
Caught in mid-air,
they are flying not falling.
You are bowing in prayer.
Birches or Aspens?
Already the picture
is fading.

Lianna Wright



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