"Writing From the Image" at Coe College: A Class Diary

Day 1:

First day, class of 13. The students range in age from 18 – 22. About half of these students have had some experience with creative writing in high school. Most of the students describe themselves as beginners.

We start with collage. I introduce the idea that manually playing around with images (cutting, juxtaposing and arranging them on the page) is like writing poetry. Placing two dissimilar images together on a page can create a metaphor. For example, placing a birds-nest on top of a models head, or replacing eyes with circles of water creates metaphor: her hair was a birdsnest, the eyes are oceans. By playing with cut images you can create quick and interesting metaphors that beg to be filled in with narrative or description. How, and why is this woman’s hair a birds-nest? Is the woman with ocean eyes peaceful or drowning?  Once students have found a visual metaphor that intrigues them, they are ready to explain, expand, narrate the metaphor.  I suggest that often the strangest or least cliché’d juxtapositions of imagery are the most compelling. Here is an example from the opening line of Denise Levertov’s poem “Song for Ishtar”

The moon is a sow
and grunts in my throat
Her great shining shines through me   
so the mud of my hollow gleams   
and breaks in silver bubbles


She is a sow
and I a pig and a poet


When she opens her white   
lips to devour me I bite back   
and laughter rocks the moon


In the black of desire
we rock and grunt, grunt and   


This opening line is startling. It grabs us -- maybe it confuse us. Yet, by the end of the poem Levertov has filled in the descriptive details and patterns that unite, or build parallels between the two objects. For me, the poem clicks into place when she adds the metaphor “the poet is a pig.” If the poet (our central point of view) is a pig, of course the moon can be a sow. Now the poem opens-up for me, invites me to notice the difference enhanced by the parallel. The earthly pig, and the heavenly sow. Is the moon the poet’s muse?

Here is our in-class 20 minute writing prompt:

Flip through magazines and cut out images you find interesting. Play around with positioning them together on a blank page of paper. Look for images that don't make complete sense when put together. They may, however, make a kind of poetic sense by sharing one or more qualities, or personal sense (the kind that only you can explain through your story). If you consider yourself to be more storyteller than poet you might pick two objects that completely clash and then create the situation or the world in which they would be brought together. Paste your images down on the page and write. You can write a story or a poem. You may write on a separate sheet or you may write in and around the images. Limited space on a page sometimes creates interesting line breaks, which in turn create interesting new meanings!


a national venue for teen writers and artists

Issue 1: 





your bones are no longer your skeleton

by Cat Berg, Washington Highschool

eyes, eyes darker every time
can never remember your shadows
such a ghost in your own bones
haunt me again


that look, that look
it was real once
your eyes in the red light
telling me
no good, no good
for me or for you
we won't stop
you can't
I know, I know
these days, anything
that gets your blood racing
it's worth it
of course, of course
I won't mention it
but, my dear, there's
no more you
black and blue
such a pale heart
still dark
haunt me again


one last time



  Modern Mermaid

  by Alice Tosi, Washington High School 

It is not the way she glides
across the water's surface,
nor how her hair maintains composure
no matter how the current flows.
Her nude body doesn't faze me at all,
and I disregard that she has a fishtail for legs
The thing that really perplexes me–
the one question I have
How does her makeup stay on?




                   by William Flack, age 13

He looks at us with eyes full of luster,
waiting for us to finish our story.
The smile on his face is
as precious as emeralds could ever be.
The student of wonder.
The teacher of curiosity.
The boy that dreams of happy endings.
He is like what we all once were:
a kid.


            Picture Day

                     by Nishimwe Esther, age 13

I went up to my room, got ready for bed
Saw my face in the mirror, pimple, oh so red.
I dreaded my glasses, my stature
My braces.
I wish home I would stay, but
Tomorrow's picture day.
I glanced at my can, my bottles and potions.
Oh, which one will help this diagnosis.
I looked around, oh so carefully.
"A ha," there it is, the “Switch Your Face Right Quickly!”
I sprayed it on until I’d left just a pinch
Tomorrow I’d wake up and look just like a prince.


8hrs later


My face is amazing, oh how can it be!
Into the camera, I’ll look flawlessly!
"Smile boy, show them your teeth."
No thank you, I might show a glimpse,
of the real me.


In A Life Full of Darkness

by Mikayla, age 15 
In a life full of darkness, even a tiny speck of light makes a difference.


Once you get a taste of the beautiful light, you'll crave it for centuries. Centuries will turn to milleniums. It gives you more pleasure than anything you've done in the dark. Take light's hand. It will guide the way.



Diary of an IYWP Summer Workshop: Image + Word

Day 1

     The group arrives at PSZ, stomping grounds for Iowa City artists. There are fourteen of us, including campers, coordinators and volunteers. We are a mix of writers and visual artists, united by our goal to explore the interplay of images and words. I’m already inspired by the swipes of green and turquoise paint that layer the walls. As we pile our bags onto a bench, I notice the bench is decorated with the stenciled icons of PSZ director John Englebrecht – designs that are a combination of image and word. What a perfect backdrop!

     To warm up, co-coordinator and editor in chief of Iowa City Poetry, Lisa Roberts, introduces a game of artists’ telephone in which we fold long strips of paper into accordion books. One person starts by drawing an image, passes the book to the next person who responds with a story or poem, passes the book to the next person, ect, ect, until the books make a full circle around our table and come back to us with totally surreal results. A book that started with an image of a unicorn, ends with an image of girl trapped under water??? Freud would find us fascinating!   SCN_0006.jpeg CPP6504688.jpeg


collages by Hae Joo, Maureen and Michelle

     Today I introduce the journal art of Dan Eldon and of Lynda Barry. Both artists used a mix of found objects, personal writing, drawing and painting to document their daily life, to ask and explore the questions that haunt and inspire them as artists.

     On one journal page Eldon asks, “What is the difference between exploring and being lost.”  Later he answers, “The journey is the destination.” His journals are painterly and complex, yet full of scribbles, tears, and overlapping images. They are purposefully incomplete. In fact, he once said that making mistakes and starting over again improved his compositions!

     We consider the art of making mistakes, as we begin our own journaling. We write down a question on the first page of our journals. We write fast and without editing, as we explore our thoughts. When we run out of words, we dive into images. We cut and paste from a pile of magazines – we paint, we draw, and we stencil. And when we can “image” no more we return to writing. It’s a wild day of composing, coloring and cutting. What a beautiful mess!

Day 2

     Today Lisa takes us back in time to explore the work of William Blake, a classic image and text artist. Blake was expert at putting images and words in conversation with one another. His images never simply illustrated his poetry, but often created contrast, or added new opposing dimensions. In his famous prints from “Songs of Innocence and Experience,” an aged weeping tree shelters a young happy lamb, or a poem describing a fierce tiger is paired with an image of a gentle cat. Blake claimed that the clash of opposites gave a work of art its energy. Lisa challenges us to create oppositions of our own, between an image and a corresponding piece of writing.


Linocut by Jaya

     Next we gather our oppositions and head up to Zenzic Press. Here we’ll be able to make our own Blake-like prints. Expert printers Kalmia Strong and Anita Jung show us how to carve words and images into linoleum blocks. It’s a good thing that we are embracing imperfection; there are so many different carving tools, and I want to experiment with them all! Here is my question of the day: Did Blake think of letters and words as small discrete images? Blake couldn’t quickly type out his words on a computer screen. He had to carefully carve around each letter in reverse.  Today I discover that it’s easier to draw a simple image than it is to carve a letter e backwards!  


                                Linocut by Taylor

Day 3

     Our group sets off on a found object hunt, in the spirit of Dan Eldon, and our artist of the day, Joseph Cornell.  Our first destination is, of course, the journey. Our second destination is the Special Collection at the University of Iowa Library. As we make our way to the library, we find that the streets of downtown Iowa City are disappointingly free of debris! We find a few foil wrappers. I dive down to pick up a cool piece of green glass that turns out to be a sticky jolly rancher! We wonder, could I still use this in a composition?

     Once at the Library I explain how Joseph Cornell roamed the streets of New York City searching for just the right objects to put in his shadow boxes.  For Cornell the city had a mysterious and surreal language that could be interpreted through the discarded objects he found in thrift stores. Like Blake, the objects he juxtaposed created conflict and opposition, but also worlds unto themselves, single dreaming perspectives. Cornell loved poetry -- he clipped out lines from his favorite poets to add to the mystery of his boxes.


               Shadow Box by Mae

      We start our Cornell work by playing around with some “found” lines of poetry that I clipped from poetry journals. Our questions: “What associations do the de-contextualized lines make? How do our minds fill in the blanks? What happens when we place two lines from different poems together?”


               Shadow Box by Jaya

      Next, we begin to add images to the mix. We take the found objects from our walk, and we rummage through my box of collected “junk” to find images and objects that compliment or confuse our clipped lines of poetry. Soon we are creating our own poetic dreamscapes à la Cornell.


                Shadow box by Adeline  

      To top off the day, librarians Colleen Theisen, and Peter Balestrieri, come in to reveal the rare FLUXUS box housed at the UI special collections. This small box contains work by some of the most famous avant-garde artists of the 20th Century, artists who came together under the name FLUXUS to create work that challenges our traditional notions of what art should be. Inside the box we find plenty of art that combines image and word. One mysterious drawing of a bulls-eye turns out to be Yoko Ono’s signature; the Y and the K are overlapping, and tucked inside the O’s.

Day 4

     Today we walk to the Chait Gallery in downtown Iowa City. The group enters and is greeted by owner and photographer Benjamin Chait! Lisa provides the prompts for today’s fun. She asks us to walk around the gallery, quietly observing until we find a work of art that speaks to us. What, she asks, would this painting say if it had a voice? What if two of the works started up a conversation? What would they say to one another?  Lisa urges us to go toward the art that pushes our buttons, triggers ideas, sesations, or emotions. When we find our work, we sit down and write.


Her eyes twitch as she concentrates. The soft beat of a butterfly's wings beat past. She reacts. She pierces it's     wing with her outstretched finger. Her tounge rehydrates her lips.

She pops the butterfly in her mouth. It beats its wings against her mouth. She crunches down on it. The instant stop of its movements pleases her.

She has been waiting for food. The assylum provides very little. She was sent there after murdering a mermaid. She then poped out its eye and dug out her own with a rusted dull knife. The blood stained her skin and orange, red.

Her mind wavers as more insects fill the air. She smiles wickedly. She knows what this means. An opening.
She has but one chance of escape. She must get out. She stands and looks up, a not of warning crosses her face. She is no longer in the assylum. Could it be? No. She is dead.

Story by Adeline, based on Honey Bee by Bao Pham

     Some of us are entranced by an elfin mermaid. Some of us find inspiration in realistic landscapes. Our visiting poet, David Duer, settles down in front of an abstract painting and composes a poem full of beautiful sensory impressions. When we return to PSZ he reads it aloud. What a treat!

Day 5

     It is our salon day! Our work from the past week is up on walls of PSZ. As we mill around the room taking in our prints, prose, and shadow boxes, partaking in a little sparkling pear cider, I imagine we are at the flat of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, surrounded by the avant-garde masterpieces. We are, after all, in the presence of great artists and writers!

     To take us back to Paris of the 1920’s we talk about Stein’s collaboration with Picasso. Stein, an influential avant-garde writer, claimed that it was only after seeing the work of Matisse and Picasso that her own project as a writer became clear. And was Picasso, the painter, inspired by Stein, the writer? Well, according to Stein, Picasso began to experiment with the style that would become cubism while he painted Stein’s portrait. What swirl of verbal and visual ideas coalesced during the conversations of those sittings?


                     "Wave" by Louis Rauh

     Today we have one more chance to use the visual as an entrée into the verbal. Local sculptor Louise Rauh brings several of her bright colored bowls and lays them across the table for us to touch and examine. We marvel at her technique of painting with tar onto aluminum, and treating the aluminum with an acid that eats away the negative space. Rauh erodes away surfaces to reveal the forms within, just as Blake does! Her bowls are a lace of swirling leaves. Some resemble spinning comets, or whirlpools. Each bowl evokes movement, a process or force of nature, yet when we pick them up, they are surprisingly light! We get to work, capturing the emotions, and ideas evoked by the bowls, and end the day with another piece of writing and a drawing to add to our journals.



A sensation of burning. An acid feel slipping down my body. Burning away every aspect of my life. A color forming in its wake. My colors.

A harsh ache eats away my mind until I can think only about the pain. The pain is oerwhelming. It consumes my very being until it leaves something else.

This something is not like me. It is frail looking, but strong. The burning cools off and I don't feel like doing anything.

Is this really what has happened?I let it win? My mind and body obscured. Pits and pieces have been erased.

My stomach churns. The fire starts again. It pounds my brain into a bloody pulp against my skull. I get the feeling I have burned away to ashes.

I gleam in a way I didn't know was possible. The burn hurts in a way that's beautiful. I am now a frail delicate beauty. The real me.

Drawing and story by Kevan, based on Wave by Louise Rauh

     It has been an inspired week. Before we go, the campers decide to call themselves  “The Nine Children of Apollo,” after the spacecraft and the Greek god of the arts. I’m sure I will see these children again; with their explosive mix of visual and verbal talents they will go far. Remember us, Children of Apollo, as you blast off toward the stratosphere!

Best wishes!

Jenny Colville


                      The Nine Children of Apollo


About Us:

Teens and Teachers is a space for beginning creative writers and the teachers of those writers. We hope to serve as a resource for teachers eager to find fresh, multi-modal ways to present basic concepts of creative writing. We publish exercises, lesson plans, and essays on teaching that center on the interplay of the visual and written. We also serve as a publishing platform for teens.....

Each year Teen Prompt will present a new talented teen, and offer up their work as a prompt from which other teens may respond. We are proud to present the work of Kate Goodvin, a 14-year-old painter from Iowa City's Southeast Jr. High for our first visual prompt. If you are a teen and would like to submit a creative writing response to Kate's work, please send it right on through our submission link! Submission Guidelines

We are so excited to see what this work triggers in your ever creative wordsmithing minds. Submissions are open to teens all across the country. Teachers, we encourage you to present Kate's work in your classrooms and send along responses. Check out our downloadable tip sheet on creating poems and stories from visual art: Tips for writing from Visual Art.pdf

Coming Soon For Teachers: This Fall we will have a downloadable curriculum for teachers; a five day unit that explores how elements of writing such as metaphor, irony, narrative, framing, editing, background, foreground and context can be explored through visual art prompts.

In the mean time, check out our "Diary of the IYWP Summer Camp: Image+Word" for ideas for you class room or to check out some beautiful work by Iowa City teens.

Artist Statement: I would consider my art semi realistic portraits.  Most of my paintings have a strong view point towards the eyes.  I like to accentuate the eyes because the eyes show the most emotion.  To be completely honest with you, I paint because that's just what I do.  It's all I know.  Painting brings me some form of happiness, so why not do it?  I work with oil paints and canvas.  I am 14 years old and I attend South East Junior High in Iowa City, Iowa.

Bio: Kate's paintings have been selected to be part of Chait Galleries' 20 under 20 show.






































The Iowa Youth Writing Project is a non-profit outreach collective, founded by University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduates in 2010, that aims to join Iowa City’s unique literary heritage with its community, empowering, inspiring, and educating Iowa’s youth through language arts and creative thinking. It provides one-of-a-kind writing, publishing, and creative learning opportunities to Iowa’s children and teens. To ensure that all young people can participate, the IYWP provides programs at little or no cost, thanks to the time, energy, and creativity of IYWP volunteers, partnerships with local organizations and institutions, and the generosity of community members. In July 2012, the Frank N. Magid Undergraduate Writing Center in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Sciences was granted a Better Futures for Iowans award, launching a pilot partnership with the IYWP, securing, expanding, deepening, and building on the IYWP’s ongoing outreach efforts. This initiative, supported primarily by the Office of the Provost, brings the community together to work toward the common goals of social good and better futures for all of Iowa’s youth. 

Special thanks to Image+Word's amazing volunteers Amy Heath, Leah Thiessen, and David Duer