Today I challenge you to write a palinode. And what’s that? It’s a poem in which the poet retracts a statement made in an earlier poem. You could take that route or, if you don’t have an actual poetically-expressed statement you want to retract, maybe you could write a poem in which you explain your reasons for changing your mind about something. It could be anything from how you decided that you like anchovies after all to how you decided that annoying girl was actually cool enough that you married her.

For this prompt I looked through some of my earlier poem drafts to find a statement to retract.  The  poem I chose was also written to a prompt, which was to write about a well-known work of art I didn’t much like.  My choice was Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.  I read about the story of the painting on the National Gallery’s website and wrote this.

To Van Gogh

Sunflowers, symbol of happiness
painted in a rare period of optimism
while you awaited your hero Gaugin,
now reproduced on cards, posters,
mugs, stationery, scarves. And yet
to me the painting is two-dimensional,
the yellow flat, dull, mustard,
hinting at future misery and failed friendship;
these sunflowers will turn from the sun.

For my palinode, I decided not to judge this painting, but to capture the joy of Van Gogh’s anticipation of Gaugin’s visit and give no hint of the misery to come. In this version, Van Gogh speaks – the line about the Marseillais eating bouillabaisse is his own!


For Gaugin’s room

Sunflowers, whorls of happiness,
tints of chrome yellow, ochre,
pigments of ultramarine, viridian:
I paint sunflowers with the energy
of a Marseillais eating bouillabaisse,
touch the shades of their life cycle,
live in hope of joy, ideas shared
with Gaugin; mellow, russet days
in the yellow house of optimism.