Creative Exercise #7

Imagery and the Five Senses

In this exercise, you will write a poem which includes images of all the five senses: Sigh, Sound, Touch, Taste and Smell.

First, find a painting that evokes a response within you.   This can be a painting that you've loved for years, or something you come across in a Google Image Search. Here are some galleries if you need ideas:

Okun Gallery
Van Gogh Gallery

Klimt Gallery
Chagall Gallery
Kahlo Gallery
Ryden Gallery
Yiadom-Boakye Gallery

Look carefully at your painting now, its textures, shapes, tones and emotions; observe the various objects in its composition. In this exercise, you will learn how a poem can be saturated with images.

Please imagine that you are some  thing  in the painting. When you begin to write, speak in your poem as though you have  become  that thing in the painting.  Step inside  the painting and imagine that you are actually there, standing, observing, smelling, and tasting the things around you in the painting.


Let's start by making a list of images -- your image bank. Look at your painting, and then write a two- or three-word phrase that describes something you  see  in the painting. When you step inside the painting, what do you see? Now write a second phrase describing what you see in the painting before you move on to the next sense -- the sense of sound.

An  image  is a phrase of  two or three words  that shows what you see, smell, hear, touch, and taste. When you have written two phrases for the sense of sight, skip down a few lines and write two phrases for the sense of sound. Avoid using single words.

To make this part easy, you may write "I see ...", "I smell..." etc., but in the final draft, try to remove those phrases.

The sense of taste sometimes causes people to ask,  How can I taste something in a painting?  For the sense of taste, think of how your own sense of taste works. You touch an ice cream cone to your tongue; the sense of cold and sweet registers in your brain.

To apply this to the writing of a poem, consider that the sense of taste can be transmitted from one object to an object that it touches  in the painting. Look at your painting. Look for objects that touch one another. These objects may be said to "taste" one another.

The upturned glass touches the tablecloth: the glass tastes the linen. Or, the ladder touches the haystack: the ladder tastes the musky hay. Or, the sail of the boat touches the wind: the sail tastes the salty wind. And so on.


To bring the sense of taste to an even more exciting level, consider the emotions: love, joy, anger, sadness, jealousy, etc. Now look again at the painting for two objects that touch one another. When you find them, you may insert one of the words of emotion next to the verb: the glass tastes the joy of the linen. Or, the ladder tastes the anger of the haystack. Or, the sail tastes the jealousy of the boat.

When you have made a list of two phrases for  each  of the five senses, begin to write your poem.


Now your task is to pull all the phrases together. Which image do you like best? The phrase for the sense of smell? Of touch? Pick one, and use it in your poem. Which image catches your eye next? Use that image now, and write it in below your first line, and so on.

Add or delete phrases as you like. Fill in some of the "story" to connect the images of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell.

Be sure to tell us which painting you chose, or upload an image for reference!


27 thoughts on “Creative Exercise #7

  1. Michelle Cordova

    Rain falls from the heavens
    onto empty streets full of darkness
    Not a sole around to witness
    as I bleed my heart onto the cold night’s pavement

    Lightbulbs buzz above my heave head
    Flickering in the shadow of my ill-fated fate
    My feet continue on, somehow..
    gently crashing into the puddles of life’s perfect storm

    Numbness takes over my being
    as if my purpose was stolen from under the soles of my feet
    Yet freedom kisses my cheek in the shape of raindrops
    covering the tears that drip from my saddened eyes

    Sweetness covers my lips
    as I lick my wounds
    Wipe salty tears from my lashes
    as I shove these feelings deep into my core

    Wiping bitter mud from my dreams
    the clouds start to part
    Flowers reveal their beauty, God’s perfumed art
    I am broken, yet chosen and purposely molded

    1. Ben Knapp

      Your poem described the painting rather well, bet the twist you added was very nice! From the painting, it is very hard to tell what the ballerina’s emotions are, and the sad feeling was a nice touch! You can tell from the poem that there is more than you reveal, which adds an air of mystery.

      1. Andrew Lange

        I like this! Seeing the painting helped me really imagine it, i.e “Lightbulbs buzzing above my head” being relatable to actual streetlights, for instance. Good job!

    2. T Gordon

      You have some beautiful lines here, and I see that you had some good inspiration–the painting is gorgeous as well. Your poem made me notice things about the painting that I did not see at first glance. It does look like there is some rain in this painting, judging by what appears to be puddles at the feet of the ballerina. However, I did not notice this detail until I read that first line of your poem.

  2. Aundrea Pierce


    I read the poem without looking at the painting first so that I could compare the scene in my head to the picture. The emptiness matched, but I was surprised to see a ballerina! I reread the poem with the painting in mind, and I enjoyed how your words fit. I was wondering why you choose somber words but then again, the picture is a bunch of blue and black so I would assume a sad emotion as well. I like how you also provide hints of hope (freedom) because the light around the ballerina gives off a sense of faith in the dark. The lines I posted below I enjoyed the most because they hit the painting spot on! Good job, wish me luck!

    “as if my purpose was stolen from under the soles of my feet
    Yet freedom kisses my cheek in the shape of raindrops”

  3. Aubri Stogsdill

    Light so bright
    golden divine
    I squint my eyes as it
    surrounds the skin
    composing my sides

    the stench of sweat
    fills my nostrils
    as the light leaks
    from within

    eyes all around
    before behind
    beneath within
    they sit and stare,
    how could they care
    down there

    My ears grow numb
    refusing to hear the
    empty compliments and
    wealthy laughter

    Grasping, pulling,
    restrained at best
    trying to escape
    but plastered straight

    Sharp on the tongue
    I am cut for beauty
    like iron to the mouth
    I want to spit it them all

    1. Naimy Schommer

      I love how this poem not only put the reader into the painting, but into the mind of the subject. Love the line “I am cut for beauty/ like iron to the mouth”

    2. Monica Gallagher

      Awesome depiction of this painting. The last line, I want to spit it them all. . .out, really made a monster out of her and I loved it. Inside the mind of a mosaicked tortured grace, bravo!

  4. Sierra McCollum

    All I see is gold
    it surrounds me creating a mold
    The tree next to me
    blackened not able to flea

    In front of my eyes
    smoke begins to fly
    The dry barren waste land
    that life can no longer withstand

    Thick smokes plugs my nose,
    ignoring all my woes,
    My nose begins to swell
    from the smell of coal
    it begins taking its toll

    My ears pound
    from the roar of the fire
    Everything seems to have backfired
    I release raspy breath
    I will not let this be my death

    My legs trudging in the sand
    trying to be able to withstand
    My skin crawls from the flames nipping at me
    everything seems to slow down
    My face forming a frown

    Smoke has such a bile taste
    but I have no choice
    I have to let it get pushed down my face
    I must go on
    I must push through this
    Even though my mouth is no longer as wet as a fish

    Is this what hell feels like
    Or heavens strike
    I now understand that I have been banned
    And punished with heavenly fire

    1. Andrew Lange

      Hi Sierra,

      I enjoyed the length of your piece! You went above and beyond the minimum requirements in terms of how many lines you have. Good job!

    1. Corbin Knapp

      Hi Naimy!
      I really enjoyed your poem! You described the painting perfectly with the words you chose,making the poem have a very definitive feel of motion so I could almost picture the dancing as I read. I also liked how you used the shape of your poem to make it quicker to read and give a sense of action in the process as well. You only use one word on most of the lines which makes it very exciting and quick.

    2. Katherine Whelchel

      Beautiful! Your description matches the style in which you wrote. I could hear a steady pounding as I read!

  5. Corbin Knapp

    This poem is about the woodblock print “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa” by Katsushika Hokusai. I have always like this print and I enjoyed thinking of a poem about it.


    I see the blue demise,
    about to plummet down on my fragile body
    and split my one protection from the sea.
    The tang of salt fills my nostrils as we are buffeted back and forth.
    I peer over the edge to gaze at the swirling depths of the blue.
    The foam slapping my face as if to scold me for looking.
    The crashing of the waves sounding like an executioner’s drum-roll,
    inspiring the waves to greater heights.
    My heart sinks like the swell of the tide as it approaches,
    and I surrender my soul to the sea.

  6. Ben Knapp

    The Truth Behind The Scream

    I feel their eyes upon me.
    They stare at me; my face locked in a never-ending wail.
    Really, I’m not the screaming type.
    If only they knew.
    I hear them laugh.
    Why am I funny?
    I don’t feel funny.
    I taste shame as they stare at me, the vision of fear.
    They mock me, holding their hands to their heads in cruel mockery.
    Don’t they know I can see them?
    Don’t they know I can hear them?
    I smell the oils in which my moment of shame is forever held.
    I’m a calm man, but they won’t remember me for that.
    They all laugh, and remember me only for the one time I screamed.

    Based on The Scream by Edvard Munch

  7. Andrew Lange

    A View From Highway 46

    Sun-baked hillsides
    Clay-colored shale adorned with thistles and poison oak
    Wind in oak leaves
    Rustling faintly
    Roots kissing the soil
    Hugging the rocky shale
    Breeze humming over the hills with a whistle
    Gusts whizzing through the underbrush

    (This was a painting I’ve had for years. It’s back home, so I don’t have access it, as it’s 700 miles away right now, but I know it by heart).

    1. Monica Gallagher

      I can imagine this perfectly. I love when you don’t need an image to describe something and when you can get a feeling from the description of the image that you can’t even physically see. A great tool of poetry!
      I can smell this image from a mile a way. haha. but seriously. Good job.

  8. Mekayla

    If I could paint anything,
    I’d paint you now,
    Hair lit with moonlight,
    Catching snowflakes,
    Melting on our tongues tasteless,

    Your eyes wrinkle with joy,
    Watching the sky dance,
    A brilliant green, a baby pink,
    If I could paint anything,
    I’d paint you now,

    You move with each chilled breeze,
    Shivers down your spine,
    Your nose as cold as ice,
    Bright red among a sea of blue and white,
    You beautiful piece of art,

    I’d give anything right now,
    For the ability to paint,
    To capture your essence with a stroke of a brush,
    Pale perfection,
    Your eyes outshining the moon,

    But nothing so simple could capture this,
    The music of your laughter,
    Dancing with the wind,
    Carrying your soft floral scent,
    I’ll create but a shadow of you,

  9. Michelle Cordova

    I love the depth that you gave to a rather simple, clean painting. Your word choice really brings the artwork to life and makes you wonder what Van Gogh, or any artist for that matter, feels when creating a piece of art! Great job!

  10. Monica Gallagher

    Glass and light,
    welcoming complexity.
    Rays of shine,
    ringing truth.

    The highest pitch of existence,
    the absence of air . . .
    Emptiness listening,
    in everything, to nothing.

    Clean, stark, smooth.
    Velvety, warm
    in energetic resonance,

    Bubble gum roses,
    mixed sweat, pores, tears. . .
    cloud cooling glacial,
    the life of ancient spice.
    Salt of stone,
    sweet natural

    Intuitive rock,
    breathing tinges of turmeric.
    Brush of purest metallic,
    in waves of ethereal
    Among meatballs.

  11. T Gordon

    (I am writing from the perspective of the…thread)

    I am the flax golden thread,
    Adorning and adorned
    for my silk and pigment.
    Strummed by the breeze,
    as I am tightly held in place,
    I release a breathy thump,
    quieter than a whistle.
    As the warm wind blows me about,
    I am forced to taste the rough bark
    that I am strung against,
    It is bitterer than I please.
    I try to smell the flowers to ignore the way
    I am pulled from both directions,
    Yet, I can only smell the stink
    of the force of the men.
    I will be stretched thin
    Until they let me go.

  12. Aundrea Pierce

    The smog leaks out a sign of life
    into the amber sky,
    the evening air licks up the plumes of smoke
    from the chimneys,
    tasting its wonder

    Branches and flowers undisturbed, reach out to
    welcome my unworthy presence,
    colorful plumes peek all around
    assuring this space is friendly

    I gaze upon the blinking water,
    a sheet that sprouts droplets of
    circles from below its surface,
    where fish lips kiss the glass

    From inside the cottage
    glowing lights call
    to me,
    Urging me to come closer
    though I’d peacefully be still

    The cottage is alive,
    in a few moments
    a busy baker will be,

  13. Cassidy Kramer
    The sun slowly creeps away
    As if it is wanting us to call it back
    And the trees are filled with whispers
    And the darkness becomes bigger

    Whatever it touches becomes cold
    It crawls on me to make me shiver
    I need to get back inside
    With the comfort of the light
    I can smell of last night’s dinner
    Oh, how I want that

    I run home
    With the leftovers on my tongue
    And the warmth of my bed
    The phrase
    I wish I was outside
    Is singing in my head

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