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Writing a Photographic Poem

In this lesson, students will examine a broadside and discuss what makes a poem “realistic” or “photographic.”

Time: 3-4 hours

Level: Grade 6-8

Broadside Referenced: “Matthew ” by Catherine R. Cryan and Kara Jean Searcy


Have students read “Landscape With the Fall of Icarus” by William Carlos Williams and “Ode to a Grecian Urn” and Anne Sexton’s “The Starry Night” and look at the paintings by Pieter Bruegel and Vincent Van Gough.  Discuss the history of poets reacting to visual art.

Next, look at the Broadside “Matthew” and discuss what it means for a poem to be photographic.  Does this mean a realistic poem?  Does it mean a poem framed by something factual?  Does it mean a poem which captures an authentic moment?  Is it different to write about photographs than paintings?


Hand out photographs either from magazines, thrift store albums, or art galleries. Write a photographic poem of 20 lines or less that includes these elements:

1.) a particular time of day or season

2.) a question

3.) an em-dash (such as this kind of thing — here)

The poem itself can describe the photograph, leap from it to another imagined world, or connect to a moment in history or their own lives.

Save time for everyone to share their work and what they discovered about their own writing through this exercise.

Do you have a teaching exercise that uses Broadsided?  Would you like to share?  Whether it’s for primary school students, a retirement community, a homeless shelter, or a university course, we’d like to offer it here so that teachers can learn from each other.  You can contact us through the email address on this page.