Playing the Blue Guitar

Wallace Stevens’ “The Man With the Blue Guitar,” a long, lyric poem published in 1937, was inspired by Pablo Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist,” which Picasso painted in 1903 (during his blue period) and now hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago. Stevens’ poem, entirely arranged in couplets, begins like this:




The man bent over his guitar,
A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.

They said, ‘You have a blue guitar,
You cannot play things as they are.’

The man replied, ‘Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar.’

And they said then, ‘But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are.’

“Blue Guitar” contains thirty-two additional, equally beautiful and evocative sections (one of which, the fifteenth, even name checks Pablo).

In any case, taking a page from Stevens’ book, today’s prompt asks that you write a poem based upon a work of visual art. And yes, let’s restrict the form to poetry due to the fact that it’s the last day of the cruelest month—that is, poetry month. Painting, film, sculpture, installation, performance, or any other work of visual art are fair game. So either pull up a favorite piece of work via the Internet or take a field trip to a nearby museum. Then look, listen, imagine, and write.