Harry Wong
Dec 2017
Vol 14 No 4

Using Poems and Photos to Inspire Writing – Part 4

By Hank Kellner

Resourceful teachers and others interested in encouraging writing know how to use even the simplest of black and white images as stimuli for discussion and the creation of written compositions. For example, what does a photograph of a fire hydrant bring to mind? Or a doorway? Or a pair of shoes? Or just about any other thing that we see during the course of a normal day? The list is as endless as the number of images that exist in today’s digital universe.

Cracked Eggs

A teacher of English at Lake Forest High School, Lake Forest, Illinois, Mara Dukats writes of “shells of empty eggs” when she discusses a broken love affair. Using imagery of objects to express her emotions, the poet expresses her feelings in such words as embers, ashes, gritty gravel, and eggshells. This poem, its accompanying image, and the keywords “fragile,” “broken,” “fallen,” and “eggs” provide unlimited opportunities for writers of all ages to relate everyday objects to different feelings or emotions.


white on white

these are words I’ve been avoiding forwhite on white  EGGS Kellner 2

some time now

their embers still burn in the ashes of


where I’ve tried so many times

to bury them

you see, I’ve fallen and

not even the shimmer of your cocoa eyes

can catch me, for

i’ve landed and it’s really not

that harsh

not as gritty as the gravel playground

on a moonless night

i’m shattered on the inside, fragile on

the outside, but strangely whole, you see

i’ve fallen and I’ve scraped my knees and

i’ve an ebbing pain like

shells of empty eggs that spill

no trace of yolks

for yellow is too soft a color

white on white

i’ve fallen and this time I’ve got the words

just right I’ve fallen out of love.


The Color of Sadness

Cynthia Staples is a writer-photographer-painter based in Somerville, Massachusetts. For more of Staple’s writing, visit her blog at Her poem, “The Absence of Color,” describes emotional states in terms of color (or the absence of color) while at the same time reversing the traditional impression of black and white. This poem-photo combination can initiate discussions about how certain colors affect emotions. Accompanied by the following quotation from Shakespeare’s Richard III: “Sorrow breaks seasons and reposing hours, /Makes the night morning, and the noontide night,” the poem can also lead to a discussion of contrast as a rhetorical device.


The Absence of Color  Absence of Color Photo Kellner 2

Does sadness have a color?

Muted blue perhaps tinged with gray.

White with ash layered throughout like Morbier cheese?

Not black. Black is beautiful

As are gold, brown, and green.

They indicate life.

Sadness equals absence

Of light and color and warmth.

Artic white, then, yes,

That’s the color of sadness.

As with Mara Dukat’s “white on white” and its accompanying image, “The Absence of Color” and its image provide many opportunities for inspiring writing. It’s interesting to note, however, that either the photos alone or the poems alone will help to accomplish the same goal. But that’s not all. Why not encourage students to create their own images and then write accompanying poems or other forms of writing?

Previous posts in this 12 part series on Using Poems and Photos to Inspire WritingPart 1.    Part 2 .    Part 3.


“White on White” and “The Absence of Color” originally appeared in Reflect and Write: 300 Poems and Photographs to Inspire Writing by Hank Kellner and Elizabeth Guy (Prufrock Press, 2013). See sample pages, reviews, and buy now at


About the author

Hank Reflect and WriteA 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. Born in New York City, Kellner now lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Visit his blog at

Kellner is the creator of many photographs and articles that appeared in publications nationwide; the author of extensive reading comprehension materials for a publisher of educational materials, and a former contributing editor to Darkroom Photography magazine. He is the author of Write What You See: 99 Photos To Inspire Writing (Prufrock Press,  2009) and, with Elizabeth Guy,  the co-author of Reflect and Write: 300 Poems and Photographs to Inspire Writing (Prufrock Press, 2013).




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This entry was posted on Monday, April 1st, 2013 and is filed under *ISSUES, April 2013, Hank Kellner. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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