Take a Pic, Write a Poem | Newberry

Take a Pic, Write a Poem

Step 1: Take a picture. It could be something you see at home or something you encounter on a walk outside.

Step 2: Write a poem. We recommend the tanka form (which is similar to haiku; see the instructions below). But use any form you like.

Step 3 (optional): Post to your preferred social media platform and tag the Newberry Library and the Poetry Foundation.

In honor of National Poetry Month, and in the spirit of photographer/poet Jun Fujita (whose work appeared in a joint exhibition by the Newberry and the Poetry Foundation this winter), we’re encouraging everyone to document their experiences in these quarantimes.

Start by taking a photo of something that represents your thoughts or feelings right now, or that reflects your approach to getting through this period of social distancing. It could be a nature scene you come across on a walk or a still life in your home.

Then write a poem inspired by that photo. You can choose to write a poem in the tanka style preferred by Jun Fujita, who published Tanka: Poems in Exile in 1923. Or you can write in another style that you may prefer.

Tanka is a short, unrhymed Japanese poem (from tan, “short” and ka, “poem”), often composed of 31 syllables. It is a form of waka, a highly imagistic lyric poem. Many English translations divide tanka into 5 lines of 5/7/5/7/7 syllables.

Like many tanka and haiku composers, Jun Fujita did not compose tanka that adhered to strict syllable counts, instead crafting poems that honor the tanka’s movement, sensibility, and shape.

You can read the tanka poems Fujita published in Poetry and also find other fun writing exercises on the Poetry Foundation’s website.



A Shakespearean Sonnet Covid-19 has vastly changed our lives. I cannot tell a Sunday from a Monday. As long as this accursed pandemic thrives We cannot hope to realize a fun day. We never see our family or friends, Avoiding neighbors in the elevator, No board meetings, no book club, East Bank ends. I hope we can resume these pleasures later. I miss twice-weekly workouts with my trainer. My calendar is full of cancelled dates. The loss of a routine could not be plainer. At least we have good dinners on our plates. I hope and pray our health will stay robust. Meanwhile in God and Pritzker we will trust.
The photo of empty Main Street is less sunny than a week ago. So, the poem turns backward a bit.
I would like to enter my Tanka inspired by poetry in Exile By Japanese poet Fujjita
Quarantine: Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, April 4, 2020 It is three o’clock, the roundest of hours, when night curls itself against the chill and only the faintest pinpricks of light puncture the holy darkness. A scattering of frail and lonely streetlights perform their sentry duty on the bridge beneath my balcony. One apartment shines in this otherwise shuttered apartment building that leans over the river, its occupants hidden and anonymous. I am intrigued by that one small light shimmering against the negation of everything. In this terrorized world where everyone is afraid of tomorrow, I am not alone. I make my ghost walk window to window in search of a star, shooting or stable, that might be watching over us. It is two and a half months into quarantine and I have grown strangely contented in my solitude. It tastes of red wine so dry it pulls my mouth. It smells sour, of spring denied its blooms, of April aborted. The night is silent and chill as the bodies that fill the morgues, the ice rinks, the refrigerated trucks. It is dark and hollow like their coffins, like this city, this night. I want to walk into it, to fill its vacuum with me, to feel the river lap my calves and rise to my hips. I want to walk until I am covered, enclosed in its soft shroud that holds at bay the dawn and its questions. Perhaps, if I could reach them without choking for breath, lungs calcified, without suffocation, I would join them, those dead-too-soon. Especially now when dark has arched from mountain to mountain, and lets me stand within its gigantic, impervious sphere. But I do not move. I don’t want to miss the pulling back of the heavy velvet curtain for the last act.
Great idea!
Great poem! Let's hope the next few months improve Our days, there's still so much that we could lose But writing, reading, walking make us calm We defuse, derogate the virus bomb.

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