There’s a long tradition of poetry being inspired by painting and other fine arts. One of W.H. Auden’s most famous poems, Musée des Beaux Arts, is inspired by 16th-century Bruegel paintings.
Much like haiku and tanka, Japanese art tends to be spare and open. The Metropolitan Museum of Art maintains an extensive online archive of traditional and contemporary Japanese art. Does one of these pieces speak to you? Perhaps the abstract symbols embroidered on a satin costume or the persimmon tree inked on a folding screen. Is it the evocative Butterfly Stool that beckons?
Tell the story of a piece from the Met’s collection using the point of view of the painter or printmaker or potter, and let the specific vocabulary of the craft inform your tanka. Or, speak as if you are the painting itself. Remember, we are aiming for 5 lines, 31 syllables, and a twist!
The old pond, aye!
And the sound of a frog
leaping into the water.
The sight of a blue heron
banking on breakfast. Swim, frog!
–Sandra Heska King and Matsuo Basho