What's an ekphrastic poem?

What's an ekphrastic poem?

In Peggy Doyle's remote seventh grade humanities class, students learned about ekphrastic poems, poems that respond to a piece of art. By reflecting on the "action" of a work of art, the poet may amplify and expand its meaning.

After listening to children's author and NPR poet-in-residence Kwame Alenxander, Doyle gave them a series of Chicago images, like the ones above, to use as inspiration for their own words, phrases, and poems about social distancing. Students were asked to explore current feelings and what they hope will be different when they re-emerge from their isolation. She then took lines and excerpts from students in each class and created the two crowdsourced, community poems below.


Waiting to Come Home
A Block Crowd Sourced Poem, April 2020

After hundreds of years of watching people come and go

The streets of Chicago finally rest

Busy streets, filled restaurants, classes at parks, morning walks, all faded.
It was as if the people never existed, and had simply faded like ghosts.
Traces of them undetectable.
Their existence, debatable.

All staying home,
Viewing the stats,
We hear the story about the bats,
Staying away from others,
Bonding with our brothers,

It feels like the world is tearing apart
A shock to the brain
An overwhelming force pushing people away
When we need each other most
trapped in a cage with no way to escape
We stopped walking
Stayed in our homes
Under lockdown
Stuck, sealed tight

Inside we cower, afraid of what is out

Do they only fill you with illness?
No, with emptiness
The city is empty
After years of love
After years of hope and dreams made and crushed
The city is empty

But moving forward to see the light once again
Within these haunted streets, hid a silent beauty to behold

The city is empty
But not for long
Not empty of hope or dreams
Not empty of songs and sad dripping tears

Not empty of love shared 6 feet apart
The city is empty but it is actually full
Full of 3 million people waiting to come home to Chicago the windy city
Waiting to come home


Alone, but Together
B Block Crowdsourced Poem, April 2020

Only the sad whispering of the wind speaks through the empty playground
Where are the people?
Where are the children?
Whispers the wind
The distant siren moans
The paper fluttering along the empty sidewalk echoes the sadness

We sit inside looking out at the world
Alone and empty
Pulled as tight as a bow string
How long till it snaps?

We turn to our computer and find our friends.

"Ah! that's safe!"

What would we do without our technology?

The world turned upside down

Six feet away
Not one inch closer
Social distancing is the new norm
Forcing everyone to conform

Although the people wept
The Earth "swept"
And cleaned itself
The sun shined
The skies cleared
And the birds sang

It's eerie here

The cars line the ribbon

Of asphalt

The city is silent

But the want in people's souls

The need

Ring out like a bird's song

Or the liberty bell



Far away, but within reach of your fingers
Her thoughts long ago left the containment of her home
Traveled to a wide-open ocean on which she sails
The wind tugging at her clothes and the sea salt spray
Of the waves brushing against her skin
A smile playing at her lips as laughter bubbles up inside
She is no longer the lonely woman stuck inside but the proud sailor
She thinks not of the empty streets nor the crowded homes
Just the way the light bounces off the waves
Undisturbed by the unease of the rest of the world
The ocean of her mind's eye will forever wait

Alone, but together