Reading Girl is a chapbook of ekphrastic prose poems exploring 21 paintings and 2 cut-outs by Henri Matisse.

I was studying Matisse’s work to learn about how he depicted place, hoping to gain insights that could inform my writing and that I could share in what became a lecture called “Painting Lessons for Travel Writers,” which I presented in completion of an MFA. I did a lot of secondary research for the lecture, but also wrote creatively in response to Matisse’s images as an alternate way of relating to his work.  By the end of my study, I had written some two dozen prose poems–these became Reading Girl.  Before they formed a collection, the poems were simply my forays into the images that drew me the most.

You can order Reading Girl from Finishing Line Press.  

Below is an index of the 23 Matisse images I used, each linked to a website where you can view the piece and learn more about it.  

Below you will also find a sample poem and two lovely endorsements.  

To read about how I created the book’s cover and what I learned from the process of translating and emulating Matisse, see Covering Reading Girl.

Sample Poem

Pianist and Still-Life, 1924, Henri Matisse

It doesn’t take much—just an attention to what’s nearest—to notice how precious this place is, like a dollhouse anticipating our humanity.  The black staves of sheet music, the grain of a piano’s wood, the brass studs along the base of an armchair.  We are living in miniature.  The whole inner world of the woman fits in a straight back chair and pours into the piano and out with the music, across the wall in triple octaves, arching like a celebrated entrance to the room in which she sits.  There is nowhere else to go.  Our biggest dreams can’t contain the sheen of pink satin or exceed the fullness of a single whole note.


Elizabeth Paul has given to these images of Matisse the texts they deserve: rapt responses in subtle striking language that dance with the artist’s vision.  Wonderful work. 

-Lawrence Sutin author of A Postcard Memoir

In no slight miracle of poetical engagement, Elizabeth Paul’s ekphrastic poems in Reading Girl manage to get inside the heart and soul of Henri Matisse’s paintings and lay bare our common and always surprising and intimate humanity. She wisely tells us in one poem that “Sometimes you have to subdue the mind to free it for others things. So says the briefcase”—and in poem after mysterious poem the mind is indeed subdued for that greatest glory of all—that spacious and always beautiful drawing room called contemplation. This is such a rare and quiet book that its very pages hum with stillness. I will gaze into its various wonders for the rest of my life. 

–Robert Vivian author of Mystery My Country

Index of Paintings & Cut-Outs by Henri Matisse

Annnelies, White Tulips and Anemones, 1944

The Artist’s Family, 1912

The Daisies, 1939

Girl with Tulips, 1910

Harmony in Red, 1908

Interior in Yellow, 1948

Japanese Mask, 1950, Henri Matisse

Laurette with a White Blouse, 1916

Marguerite, 1906

Music, 1939

Odalisque, 1923

Odalisque with a Tambourine, 1925-1926

Pianist and Still-Life, 1924

The Piano Lesson, 1916

Reading Girl, 1922

Still Life with Geraniums, 1910

Still Life with Sleeping Woman, 1940

Tahiti Landscape, 1931

Two Figures Reclining in a Landscape, 1921

Two Girls in a Yellow and Red Interior, 1947

Woman at the Fountain, 1917

Zulma, 1950

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