I Don’t Know Art, But I Know What I Don’t Like [Poetry Friday]

Happy Poetry Friday!

Last month, we Poetry 7 shared our crown sonnet about the Periodic Table–that was such a fun project to be part of! Now the good news is that we have renewed our vow to continue monthly poems through 2016. Yay! The bad news is that we’re doing a LOT of ekphrastic poems. This was my least favorite poem activity of 2015. (I love to write poems in response to images, but not really in response to “art.”) But, I’m hoping that some repeated attempts will improve my skills at this in 2016. Based on what I came up with this month, I am not expecting much!

Here’s the photo we were initially going to write poems to, and this is the one I stuck with.

Sculpture: Pablo Picasso
Photo: Liz Garton Scanlon

Ugh. I will confess I am not a fan. But sometimes capturing the wonderfulness of something is overwhelming. Maybe it would be easier to write a poem about something I didn’t like? Eh. Not so much.

As an aside, I often feel so uncultured compared to other writers. Most of them discuss history and art and culture with an ease that leaves me feeling like I don’t quite measure up. (Not because they’re TRYing to make me feel that way; just because they seem so much more knowledgeable and sophisticated.) A few years back when I was on a panel of NCTE Notables honorees for one of my books, I told a room full of educators that I really didn’t like To Kill a Mockingbird. The gasp was quite audible. I know how students feel when we give them choices in their reading but then (overtly or covertly) look down on what they choose to read. Talk about intimidating!

Anyway, here goes…and I know this is a cop-out.

I Don’t Know Art, But I Know What I Don’t Like

What is it?

A blob, deformed, an alien creature
No color, line, appealing feature

Who made it?

Genius? Oddball? Trickster? Saint?
Artist who should stick with paint!

Why is it here?

To show I’m unsophisticated?
Mission accomplished. Yup, I hate it.

–Laura Purdie Salas, all rights reserved

That’s draft 4. Only the last line changed a bit from draft 3, because I wasn’t happy with the rhythm of the last line (as if that’s all I was unhappy with!). And, really, it didn’t change much from draft 1 to 4. I guess that’s because I was not very enthusiastic about the topic. Not a good excuse! I promise to try harder next time!

I decided to try a pregunta, a Spanish poetic form incorporating questions, in honor of Picasso. I didn’t follow the most traditional form of it, but I did keep the questions in it.

Here’s how the poem evolved.

Video (ugh) of me writing draft one:



Thursday, January 21, 2016

d2 of Picasso sculpture poem


Pregunta II (from Shapes of our Singing)

chosen because it’s Spanish, like Picasso


What is it?

A blob, deformed, an alien creature

No single half-appealing feature


Who made it?

Genius? Oddball? Trickster? Saint?

Artist who should stick with paint!


Why is it here?

To make me shudder. Feel naïve.


Friday, January 22, 2016


d3 of Picasso sculpture poem


Pregunta II (from Shapes of our Singing)

chosen because it’s Spanish, like Picasso


What is it?


A blob, deformed, an alien creature

No color, line, appealing feature


Who made it?


Genius? Oddball? Trickster? Saint?

Artist who should stick with paint!


Why is it here?


To show I’m unsophisticated?

OK, I’ll own up. Yup, I hate it.


Oi. Oh, well. We wrote to many different photos of Picasso sculptures. Here’s where you can check out the other Poetry Princesses’ poems! They made much better choices of sculptures and came up with some really lovely (and informative, in some cases) poems. Check them out!

Andi is not able to participate this month, but she’ll be back! We miss you, Andi!

And here are the previous Poetry Sisters collaborations:

January 2016 Crown sonnet (on the periodic table)
November 2015 Ekphrastic poems
October 2015 Etherees
September 2015 Found poems
August 2015 Classified haiku
July 2015 Inspired by e.e. cummings’ poems
Jun 2015 Odes
May 2015 Pantoums
Apr 2015 Raccontinos
Mar 2015 Sestinas (Lord have mercy)
Feb 2015 Villanelles on hidden things
Jan 2015 Triolets on beginnings (And I posted an extra one here.)
Pre-2015 Villanelles, a crown sonnet, rondeau redoubles, and pantoums

And Poetry Princess Tricia has the Poetry Friday Roundup at The Miss Rumphius Effect. Don’t miss it!

21 Responses

  1. You know that I love this poem, in part because I adore the couplets, and in part because you’ve nailed exactly how I often feel when looking at “modern” art. Beyond this poem, you have given us a real treasure in the video and the sharing of your process. Thank you for this gift. I’m going back to watch it again!

  2. And can I just say that I have NEVER written a poem on my computer? They all start on paper and get transferred to my computer when they’re nearly done. I don’t know how you do it!

  3. This just absolutely cracks me up. I love every line, perhaps the “artist who should stick with paint” the most. I actually adore Picasso’s sculptures, but I adore you and your humor and poetic phrasing and witticisms even more 🙂

  4. I think it’s perfectly legitimate to dislike something, and it’s indeed funny that we all want to discuss art and literature, but not necessarily discuss it critically — sometimes it’s like we sit around and pat ourselves on the backs, collectively, on our good taste. And I say that as someone with multiple degrees in English! It’s important to give students — and everyone — room to come to grips with art in the ways that they wish. I wouldn’t *buy* this sculpture, but I like it like I like Venus of Willendorf — as someone’s idea of a woman, it gives me a bit of food for thought!

    I do love that you hate it, though, and aren’t afraid to own that.
    I, too, am unsure about the ekphrastic form, but… heck, we’ll either improve or never do this again, right?? 😉

    1. I LOVE that you went this direction with your poem, a straight-up, unabashed emotional response to the piece, rather than something more descriptive. Nearly all MY art knowledge comes from Google, and lots of time reading about the artists and/or pieces.

      I found this challenging (especially since I’m not a huge Picasso fan, and his sculptures are so oddball), but was startled to find it helped me write one of my better pieces!

    2. Thank you, Tanita. There’s a lot of art I don’t like as in I don’t want it on my wall but I still find it thought-provoking and interesting to look at. This piece, though, actually repulses me somehow. It was ridiculous for me to stubbornly stay with it. But, there you go. From a brief glance, I had convinced myself I didn’t like ANY of his sculptures. And in truth, none of the ones I’ve seen appeals to me a lot. But there are others that at least don’t make me feel ick. I’m hoping to get over some of my ekphrastic hangups this year! Team Poetry Princesses!

  5. Laura, I agree with you about the sculpture, but I love that you shared the video of you writing the first draft. I feel like you were sitting in my kitchen teaching me how to write a pregunta. And your poem isn’t a cop out; it’s honest and true, exactly as it should be. Thank you for sharing this thoughtful post!

    1. Thank you, Catherine. I can’t believe anyone actually watched the video! I did rather feel like a 3rd grader with an assignment:>)

  6. A pregunta? How cool is it that a Spanish poem form which asks questions also reminds me of pregnancy, which given Picasso’s obsession with boobs and wombs, just makes me think you are quite sly, Poetess Laura!

    Nothing wrong with hating a piece art, either—most artists would take that over being bored by their work—a strong reaction is better than none, right? I find it interesting that you love to write to images but not “art” and I wonder what the difference is—the intent of the artist must be addressed? But any image (photo or sketch or reproduction) is a choice made by someone, to see something in a particular way. You SAW. You responded. It’s all good. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Sara. Not sly–that’s just a happy coincidence. Though when I was looking for Spanish forms, pregunta of course immediately brought pregnancy to mind. But I am fairly ignorant of Picasso and his obsessions. I remember seeing some paintings at MOMA on my first trip into NYC, and I was there with an Art History major or some such. She gazed at the paintings for a long time. I…did not :>) But I think you hit the nail on the head. With “art,” the artist comes along with it. With an everyday image, by an anonymous or at least not famous and pregnant-with-meaning-and-history artist, I can easily ignore the artist. Plus, when I’m inspired by images, you often would never know it from the original inspiration, because I leapfrog from one topic to another until I see what I want to write about. With “art,” I feel I must stay closer to the image itself. Huh. Oh well, on to the next thing!

  7. Your poem made me laugh! And I love that you shared your whole process with us. You are a darling. Once I told an English prof that I was hoping to be friends with (at our first meeting) that I didn’t like “To Kill a Mockingbird” and she shouldn’t read “Go Tell it on the Mountain” if she wanted to stay infatuated. She never talked to me again! Gah! But you, I treasure my dear!

    1. Heehee–Andi, your Comment made my day! Hoping you are feeling combobulated soon!

  8. I really enjoyed your poem, Laura! Liked the form, too. The sculpture reminds me of an animated character …something from Dr. Seuss maybe?

  9. Love your honesty! And you picked the perfect form to express your confusion/dislike!

  10. My daughter works at our Museum of Modern Art, and sometimes it’s hard to get excited about their latest showing. I hear you, and like that you wrote a poem sharing that feeling, Laura. Like others, I love the line “artist who should stick with paint”. No matter the genius, perhaps other critics have said the same thing.

  11. I love how raw and unfiltered your response is to Picasso’s sculpture — as it should be. It is exactly what is should evoke from any individual. Loved your poem, too!

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