This is not Dante – writing prompt

Dante, by Botticelli

One of the poems in this week’s inbox came courtesy of The Paris Review: Identity Check by Hans Magnus Enzensberger. The title is intriguing enough, the first line is a bold claim and a denial:


This is not Dante


This immediately sets up tension and hooks the reader’s curiosity. If not Dante, who is it? We get an answer we know can’t be true: This is a photograph of Dante. Then: This is a film showing an actor who pretends to be Dante.


The poem continues like this. It reminded me of a poem of mine published in orbis magazine which uses similar techniques. If I feel really ‘stale’, then using two prompts of a different kind is guaranteed to work.


In 2017 I went to Tate Modern for the exhibition of Robert Rauschenberg – very stimulating. It included his telegram This is a painting of Iris Clert if I say so. A visit with a poet friend to Manchester Art Gallery then started the poem. The painting described is Portrait of Lucian Freud by Francis Bacon. Here is the link.

Franz Kafka

This is a portrait if I say so


A portrait of Kafka, in a long coat; dark grey, almost black. No, it’s not. It’s just paint on canvas. This is a portrait of the man who was a friend of the man who put the paint on the canvas. Paint is history. Painting is looking for something, then losing it again. This is a portrait of a man, based on a photo of Kafka. My friend Kathleen asked Was Kafka’s face that long? The man in the long coat in the portrait is striding out. No, he’s not. The note to the right of the portrait says the man who is not Kafka is leaning against the pillar, but the pillar isn’t straight. This is a portrait of a man who isn’t famous, based on a photo of Kafka, and Kafka became famous, and the man who put the paint on the canvas became famous. Kafka is dead. The painter is dead, but this portrait is living, dead paint is living. This is the living portrait of a man who had friends. The man in a coat the colour of death. All colours become history. A coat; a face; a pillar. A portrait is, he says so.

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