Blog, poetry, Surrealism, Themed Writing Projects, writing prompts

Surrealism Poetry Prompt: Dali the Surrealist, the Prophet


dali surrealist poetry

By the late 1930s, the surrealist painters had well established norms–that is, if you can call anything about their work normal. Using free associations, awkward juxtapositions, and dream-like presentations, the surrealists painted ethereal scenes that re-imagined the assumptions of the society of the day. To the surrealist, nothing was off-limits. Sexuality, religion, the nature of art itself–these were the common subjects of the surrealist painters.

By the late 1930s, Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali was one of the most notable painters of the movement. Having shown the masterful ability to capture the essence of the unconscious, Dali had garnered a world-wide following, in no small part due to his famous painting, “The Persistence of Memory.” But by the close of the 30s, the days were coming darker amidst the building Nazi threat, and the images of molten pocket-watches likely failed to capture the collective consciousness of the day. So, in 1940, Dali set out to capture “The Face of War.”

The work depicts a head, free-floating in a post-apocalyptic desert. Wearing an expression eerily reminiscent of the figure in Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” the eyes and mouth contain other free floating heads, these more skeletonized than the first. Dali gives the illusion that the heads exist in infinity, the eyes and mouths of each successive head filled with others just like it. The shadows of the head point west as the rising sun exposes a new, horrific reality.

In its day, the painting was certainly shocking, a visceral portent of the coming conflict. But with the benefit of hindsight, one wonders whether Dali was more than a participant in the surrealist movement. One wonders whether he had become a prophet of sorts, whether he saw the fall of Hiroshima in 1945, and with it, the rise of a nuclear world where great civilizations could be laid to ruin in the span of an afternoon.

Salvador Dali was an eccentric fellow, some might say. But I might argue that he was something more. I might argue that Dali came to embody the surrealist exploration of the human unconsciousness, and in so doing, his prophetic vision was the most perfect of the surrealist works.

Dali once claimed, “I myself am surrealism.” I, for one, think Dali was spot-on.

Today’s Poetry Prompt: Building on the tradition of Dali’s “The Faces of War,” can you re-imagine the coming world? Feel free to explore themes other than war, too. Religion, humanity, government, love, these are all themes that are up for grabs. This might be the most challenging surrealism prompt yet. Are you up to it?


Tweetspeak’s November Surrealism Poetry Prompt:

This month’s poetry theme at Tweetspeak is surrealism, and we’re composing poems that play with the theme. Let’s create some surrealist poetry by playing with juxtapositions and free associations. Perhaps you can gain a bit of inspiration from this month’s playlist or from other source. We’d love you to join with us, even use a Dali or Picasso as your writing prompt. How do you participate?

1.  Study up a bit on the history of surrealism, on both the artistic and philosophical underpinnings of the movement. Listen to the Tweetspeak monthly playlist.

2.  Compose a poem using surrealist concepts, juxtapositions, or associations.

3. Tweet your poems to us. Add a #TSSurreal hashtag so we can find it and maybe share it with the world.

4. If you aren’t a twitter user, leave your found poem here in the comment box.

5. At the end of the month, we’ll choose a winning poem and ask the winner to record his or her poem to be featured in one of our upcoming Weekly Top 10 Poetic Picks.

And speaking of winners, last week, Maureen Doallas wrote “Dressed to Kill.” In it,

The raven laps a blood-spill of ink
from night’s mouth;

the sky slips
into its black silk feathers.

Clouds shimmy.

The bird in flight spells the stars’
own demise.

Twigged limbs ride point
high on these lovers’ bared backs,

thorn-thick beak stripping
bone to marrow.

 This is a frightful, beautiful, surreal piece. Thank you Maureen for sharing.

Now, let’s create some more surreal poetry; let’s re-imagine the world. Who’s first?

Photo by Grakus Art, Creative Commons via Flickr. Post by Seth Haines


Buy a year of Every Day Poems, just $2.99 — Read a poem a day, become a better poet. In November we’re exploring the theme Surrealism.

Every Day Poems Driftwood

Your Comments

11 Comments so far

  1. What a challenge you’ve set this week, Seth!

    Thank you for highlighting excerpts from my poem.

  2. As if I weren’t challenged before, the bar is raised higher still. Hmmm, what’s a girl to do…maybe just write. Want to jump in but the water is oh so cold. BBBRRRR.

  3. I am not up to it.

    But I recently read “Age of Miracles,” and I loved the idea of a small change–the Earth slowing its rotation–causing changes in families and in society. At times it was surreal, then when I finished it, I saw someone’s photos online of Southern California and thought, “Thank God California’s still OK.” That’s when I knew the book had gotten to me.

  4. Our Heads No Longer Haloed

    We will live on dead wood,
    totem stumps our means

    to parry paths in landscapes
    riven by hands of bleaching

    bone. We will carry sweet cries
    of crows in our gilded throats,

    grateful for the cacophony
    that will leave us never alone.

    Our eyes will fill with black rain,
    that promise to relieve blisters

    born of the heat of the bombs
    our hearts will have become.

    Our oceans, those salted slicks
    of oil, we will set afire, give earth

    no room for disruptive maneuvers.
    Uncloaked clouds will sputter

    laughter loud in our ears. Wind
    will wail the welcoming of night.

    We will welcome sleep on stone,
    our heads no longer haloed.

  5. Here is my poem for this weeks prompt:

    For this surrealism poetry prompt, “Building on the tradition of Dali’s “The Faces of War,” can you re-imagine the coming world,” I decided to look at “Ballerina in a Death’s Head,” by Salvador Dali (1939),, and the war between death and life. In imagining the world to come, it is clear that death has to be overcome before redemption and restoration. The war against death here is a dance where beauty begins to emerge from the “shadow of death” itself. While death seeks to become us, or overcome us, it can be transcended in resurrection in the beautiful dance with the author of life, The Author of Resurrection.

    Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoy!


    Congrats on your work “Dressed to Kill” Maureen! There were some lines in that poem that were dressed to kill. . . and kill they did. . .

  6. Shelly Faber says:

    slip… slide…slither
    through grass growing high past clouds, stars, skies, other worlds, taking my reaching arm by the hand to the mouth of yawning truths, suspectful, cheery, (cheering) lies.
    mixing yesterdays with tomorrows, forgetting today, there is nothing but nothing -(dark).

    drinking port, laughing, pointing fingers through shining-lights 4 eyes,
    piercing with exquisite pain
    feels so good
    I can only sleep.

    In sleep- wonder/wander – soft dreams.
    I taste smells of ‘Cinnabon’, in Subway cars I ride each day… where I jiggle and juggle and tumble
    next to other Subway riders…

    slip and slide and slither together into cinnamon dreams -and back again.

    Written for: Tweetspeak – Surrealism Poetry Prompt

    Thanks for this prompt!


  1. Cinnamon | myredwinediary - September 19, 2013

    [...] Written for: Tweetspeak – Surrealism Poetry Prompt [...]

Share with our Community

Post a comment

Take How to Read a Poem

Get the Introduction, the Billy Collins poem, and Chapter 1

How to Read a Poem by Tania Runyan

Free with tweet

Subscribe to our newsletter

Grab the Quote a Day Widget


Poetry for Life? Here's our manifesto on the matter...

Poetry for Life: The 5 Vital Approaches

Help make it happen. Post The 5 Vital Approaches on your site!

Learn to Write Form Poems

Whether or not you end up enjoying the form poem, we've seen the value of building your skills through writing in form.

One reader who explored the villanelle was even featured in Every Day Poems!

How to Write a Ballad

How to Write a Catalog Poem

How to Write a Ghazal

How to Write a Haiku

How to Write an Ode

How to Write a Pantoum

How to Write a Sestina

How to Write a Sonnet

How to Write a Villanelle

They Bring Poetry for Life

Meet our wonderful partners, who bring "poetry for life" to students, teachers, librarians, businesses, employees—to all sorts of people, across the world.

All top
I am

© 2015 . Powered by WordPress.

Daily Edition Theme by WooThemes - Premium WordPress Themes