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Color in Art Sparks Color in Verse

This post is the third in a series about the Poets in Schools writing program at Burke High School. Each semester, Burke High School students visit the Gibbes as part of this program. Last fall, the group found a symphony of colors to inspire their poetry in the exhibition “Brian Rutenberg: Tidesong.”

For color poems we use an abstract and ask the students what the colors mean to them. Is doesn’t have to correlate to anything—the color red can make you think of a green bicycle, or the color blue might make you think of the time you hit a home run in little league (in a Red Sox uniform). I ask them to not be afraid to get carried away: give the colors actions, characteristics, smells, fears, problems.

For inspiration I like to share color poems that I’ve written, or even better, those written by previous students—hearing peers break through the “color barrier” and find strange, unique associations can be helpful. I also like to share some lines from “Bold as Love” by Jimi Hendrix:

Anger he smiles, towering in shiny metallic purple armour/Queen Jealousy, envy waits behind him/Her fiery green gown sneers at the grassy ground

—Jonathan Sanchez, guest blogger and director of Poets in Schools at Burke High School

Pavilion, 2008 - 2009, by Brian Rutenberg

The following color poems were inspired by Pavilion, 2008 – 09, by Brian Rutenberg (American, b. 1965), oil on linen, courtesy of Jerald Melberg Gallery, Charlotte, NC.

Black is like the staircase I take to the psych ward.
Grey is like my heart that’s been ripped out and put back in.
Purple is like the cover I used to slip into my dreams.
Orange is the color my hair will be in two weeks.
Black is the color I love the most.
Blue makes me feel sick.
Is white even a color?
I feel that brown is the color of my skin and not black.
Peach isn’t the color of a peach.
—Khaliyah Stroud, 9th grader, Charity Scruggs’ class

The dark side makes me feel sad for Derrion Albert, beat to death in Chicago.
The middle colors make me go back in time to Easter Sunday;
My little Briana and Alexis, they were so cute in colorful polka dots.
The blue, purple, and green makes me want to
Swim away forever and drown in a sea of my own self-love.
I feel it, no, I feel you. I feel him.
Let me live beyond the beautiful yellowish orange that makes me
Feel the heat and violence of Sierra Leone, Africa.
Pink, a baby girl with a heart problem was just born, her mother has breast cancer.
Dark green makes me smell the sewer that Chris Tucker
and Jackie Chan went down in Rush Hour 3.
Red just made me laugh.
Purple is my best friend Jessika;
Raven is stuck in the middle mixed with all colors and emotions.
—O’Kellia Corbin, 9th grader, Charity Scruggs’ class

Read the previous entry by Jonathan Sanchez about his work with the program; and one student’s story inspired by Robert Henri’s painting, The Green Fan.

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