Using Photos to Inspire Writing

According to the playwright Eugene O'Neill, "Life is for each man a solitary cell whose walls are mirrors." More recently, news anchor Tom Brokaw stated, "It's easy to make a buck. It's a lot tougher to make a difference."


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Paired with the appropriate poems and images that follow, those two quotations can help to inspire writings based on the themes of either isolation or education.

The author of the first poem, Sheila Cooperman, is a teacher at the Weston Public Schools and a doctoral candidate in literacy at Fordham University. Visit her blog at digitalis.nwp.org. Her poem and its accompanying illustration bring to mind "the richness of that solitary life."

The Sounds of Lonely Lives

Painting by Van Gogh

Solitary Meaning
Bare-cold worn floors
Worn by passersby that inhabit lonely places
Confined within walls that speak great sounds
Of lonely lives

Empty portraits on the wall
No commitment or warmth
Just there
Portraits with no more meaning than a pitcher or a washbasin
No more importance than bare brass hooks
As insignificant as a ragged towel
And threadbare shirts

Is the window open letting in newness?
Is the window closed imprisoning one comfortable in a barren world?
What is there is telling
What isn't there, even more

If what we have reflects importance
Then what is there
is barren
But perhaps, more important
is what is not seen
Perhaps the richness of that solitary life
Lives elsewhere
Something that cannot be reflected in the collection of things
Because things cannot do justice

In response to this poem and its accompanying illustration, some students may choose to reflect on the importance of moments of solitude in their own lives. Others may choose to write about someone they know who seems to prefer being alone to being in the company of others. Still others may decide to write about the advantages and/or disadvantages the solitary life.

Who Was That Masked Man?

Today's students probably won't recognize the Lone Ranger, that masked rider of the plains whose silver bullet struck fear into the hearts of outlaws in the old West on Friday nights when radio was king and television was still unknown. But they will recognize the masked rider who appears in Diane Wahto's poem.

A retired Butler Community College English instructor, Wahto, her husband, and their three dogs live in Wichita, Kansas. Her latest published poem is "Making Butter," which appeared in Poem a Week, a project of the Kansas poet laureate, in April 2013.

building side with 'Education' word

Lone Ranger
The masked rider
armed with the silver bullet of knowledge,
astride the white steed of pedantry,
clad in the black suit of mystery,
boldly confronts
the arrogant ignorance
of English majors
lined up in straight rows
of desks, ready
for the showdown
of mind against mind.
Never slipping, the mask speaks
disembodied truths,
nods, says ummm
to answers
that shoot out with
blind courage,
missing the mark,
but wounding
nonetheless.

The masked wonder-
teacher founders, wishes
he could reveal truth,
knowing he must always
be the one to say,
"But look at it this way,"
or "Don't you think...?"

And sometimes one will see
and fly straight to the salient
point with unerring accuracy.

This poem-photo combination can't fail to initiate spirited discussion about schools, the process of education, learning, teachers, and more. Following discussion, students and others will be eager to write about teachers they have had, classes they have attended, their schools, their successes and failures in schools, their plans for the future, and much more. •

Next: Nature's Dynamic Forms in Poetry

©2013 Hank Kellner. All rights reserved.

Write What You See by Hank Kellner

This feature is basedon Hank Kellner's Reflect and Write: 300 Poems and Photographs to Inspire Writing.


Reflect and Write with Hank Kellner

Metaphors Inspire Writing
Humor Inspires Writing
Rap as Poetry
Crossing Bridges
Where You're From
Nature's Dynamic Forms
Isolation and Education
The Power of the Visual
Black and White Images
Inspiration in Monet Paintings
Graphic Images Surround Us
People Respond to Images


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About Hank Kellner

Hank KellnerA veteran of the Korean War, Hank Kellner is a retired educator who has served as an English Department chairperson at the high school level and an adjunct Associate Professor of English at the community college level. More