Safiya Sinclair

How to Be Painterly: Conjuring the Poetic Image

The poetic image, in its most painterly forms, is not just a way to “show” instead of “tell”—the perfect image is a conjuring: a doorway through time and space, a way to dive into memory, a lucid entryway into other worlds. With a well-conjured image, one’s whole world may be disrupted into entirely new thought. One may swoon, or sigh, or search for meaning, one may fix upon a figure, or a texture, or a colour. Through the fevered imagination of the painterly, an image leaps to another image, bending space, creating space, filling us with all the luminous details of the writer’s world. An image “presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time,” writes Ezra Pound in “A Few Dont’s by an Imagiste.” In this workshop, through reading and generative writing exercises, we will aim to conjure imagery that evokes all the emotional and intellectual senses. We will learn how to be painterly with texture and metaphor, how to craft images that trace and weave symbolism, allegory, and allusion. We will engage in ekphrastic considerations of artwork by visual artists like Frida Kahlo, Caravaggio, and Wangechi Mutu. We will chase what lights our wildest imagination. By reading the work of Sylvia Plath, Derek Walcott, Lorca, Lucie Brock-Broido, Natalie Diaz, Roger Reeves, Toni Morrison, and Gabriel García Márquez, we will examine the different ways an image opens the doorways into astounding poetry, uncovering how imagery illuminates the lyric landscape of the greatest literary works.


Safiya Sinclair was born and raised in Montego Bay, Jamaica. She is the author of the forthcoming memoir How to Say Babylon. She is also the author of the poetry collection Cannibal, winner of a Whiting Writers’ Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Metcalf Award, the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Poetry, the Phillis Wheatley Book Award, and the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry. Cannibal was selected as one of the American Library Association’s “Notable Books of the Year,” and was a finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award, as well as being longlisted for the PEN Open Book Award and the Dylan Thomas Prize. 

Sinclair’s other honours include a Pushcart Prize, a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, fellowships from Yaddo, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Elizabeth George Foundation, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, The Nation, Poetry, Kenyon Review, Oxford American, and elsewhere.

She received her MFA in poetry at the University of Virginia, and a PhD in Literature and Creative writing from the University of Southern California.

0 comments on “Safiya Sinclair

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: