Ekphrastic May: Poems from Home

Stuck at home during COVID-19, members of the Guilford Poets Guild recently engaged in an ekphrastic exercise of writing poems inspired by works of art in their own homes. Similar to seeing rooms on Zoom, these poems offer a unique and intimate glimpse into the lives of these local poets.

Ekphrastic poetry is a response to a visual work of art, often a vivid, dramatic work that takes a painting, sculpture, or other artwork as its inspiration.

In June, GPG poets will be writing about COVID-19, and their reflections on the pandemic. Stay tuned!


Ekphrastic May: Le Bal à Bougival

Members of the Guilford Poets Guild are writing ekphrastic poems this month, poetry inspired by artwork hanging in their home.


Le Bal à Bougival
by Sharon Olson

Is she more noticeable in his arms, or more forgotten?
We do not see his eyes beneath his straw hat,
but we know they burn.

The red trim on her white dress excites him,
his hand wants to slide from its grasp on her waist.

They are hardly moving but their steps are powerful,
he leads her even as they stand still.

All the while she watches the watchers,
knowing they are seen as lovers,
as invisible as a couple, but worth a few stares.

He is my sister’s husband,
she is laughing over there beneath the trees,
and does not suspect us as the others do,
strangers throwing us a strange eye.

We are full of cold beer, caught up in the dance,
and the way he holds me I am staggering.

My left arm thrown over his neck
leaves my right side open.
This is something he knows well:
not to press too hard or smother,
but to leave part of the body untended, waiting.

I bought this poster of Le Bal à Bougival by Renoir when I was a teenager and hung it in my room in the early 60s. By now it is yellowed on the borders but I framed it to be able to keep hanging it in my present home. The first time I saw the painting in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts was when I was well into my forties. I wrote a poem about it in my thirties and it was published in my book The Long Night of Flying.

Shelter in Poems

For National Poetry Month this year, the Academy of American Poets asked its readers to share a poem that helps to find courage, solace, and actionable energy. Here is a selection of poems that were chosen from Poets.org:

The Days to Come” by Medora C. Addison
Alone” by Maya Angelou
The 19th Amendment & My Mama” by Mahogany L. Browne
Again a Solstice” by Jennifer Chang
Blessing the Boats” by Lucille Clifton
Manhattan is a Lenape Word” by Natalie Diaz
Hope is the thing with feathers (254)” by Emily Dickinson
The Changing Light” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Migration” by Jenny George
This Bridge Across” by Christopher Gilbert
Consider the Hands that Write This Letter” by Aracelis Girmay
Invictus” by William Ernest Henley
Let Evening Come” by Jane Kenyon
The Conditional” by Ada Limón
Thanks” by W. S. Merwin
Shedding Skin” by Harryette Mullen
Octopus Empire” by Marilyn Nelson
The Bronze Legacy” by Effie Lee Newsome
Gate A-4” by Naomi Shihab Nye
Shaking Hands” by Pádraig Ó Tuama
The Psychic” by Victoria Redel
Diving into the Wreck” by Adrienne Rich
Patience” by Kay Ryan
Everyone Sang” by Siegfried Sassoon
Spring Morning” by Marion Strobel
Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas
Danse Russe” by William Carlos Williams

You can share your suggestions with by using the hashtag #ShelterInPoems on your social media or by writing to them at shelter@poets.org. Whether you’re writing in or tagging to them on twitter, facebook, or instagram, Poets.org will select some of your responses to feature on the Shelter in Poems page.