Edward Hopper’s Painting “Room In New York”: Introduction To The Poem Sequence
Robert A. Fink
Each spring semester, Hardin-Simmons University’s creative writing program offers English 4316 / 5316 — Advanced Creative Writing. Advanced means the prerequisite for this poetry and fiction writing workshop is English 4315 / 5315 — Creative Writing, which is offered each fall semester. Not all students in the fall workshop take the advanced workshop, so the class is usually smaller than the fifteen-student cap for the fall semester’s beginning workshop. This semester, Spring 2015, I have six students — Jeremy De La Rosa, Stephanie de la Rosa, Heather Henderson, Shyann Parks, Susan Pigott, and Elizabeth Steele. Jeremy, Stephanie, and Elizabeth are undergraduates. Heather, Shyann, and Susan are graduate students. Susan is pursuing an M. A. in English With Creative Writing Emphasis; she will be writing a book of poetry for her thesis. Dr. Susan Pigott is also a Hardin-Simmons Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew in the HSU Logsdon School of Theology, as well as a talented photographer.
Because the Advanced Workshop builds upon writing and editing skills honed during the first semester, in the spring, I like to offer additional experiences for the students. At the end of the semester, the students give a public reading of selected works written during the semester. They also submit poems or short fiction for publication consideration in the student-edited literary and visual art magazine Corral. I also look for ways to provide the students a larger readership for their works. This semester I am using my website: A Thin Silence.
As you know, writers find inspiration wherever it is to be found. All a writer needs is an opening line or sentence, an image, a scene, and the writer is off on the discovery process, what creative writing (all good, true, writing) offers the writer and eventually the reader. At the start of this semester, I showed the workshop Edward Hopper’s painting Room In New York and asked them to write sentences about the two people in the painting, writing quickly whatever came to mind, filling pages with as much detailed information as possible within a thirty-minute time limit. The students read these sentences to the workshop. We talked about what seemed to be revealed about the New York couple. For the following workshop, I asked the students to select imagistic details from their list and organize them into a unified and coherent sequence. Next I asked them to shape the images and details into a poem, what is often called an ekphrastic poem — one inspired by a work of art, not necessarily an interpretation of the art, more like a response to what the painting has led the writer to discover about what it means to be the couple in the painting, what true writing offers both the writer and the reader — what it means to be human. Not a message, an experience.
The pages that follow this introduction showcase the students’ poems triggered by Edward Hopper’s painting Room In New York. I hope you will study Hopper’s painting then read each of the poems in sequence to discover how the poets experienced the relationship in the painting, how you can experience it as well.