Poetry Challenge 20, Imagery: Post Thy Poems

Note: If you come here following a link from a Curator email, the 12-poem flash challenge is elsewhere. Follow this link.

The challenge is to steal some technique from the old Imagists, and write a full, unsubtracted poem with that technique of intense crystalline imagery.

What is an Image? Here are the basics. It’s like a simile, but visual. Where a simile says “A is like B,” an Image says, “A looks like B.”

You don’t have to actually use the words “looks like,” and it’s better if you don’t.

“A cat’s footprints in the snow; purple plum blossoms.” That’s a perfect example; and the original, in an Asian language, was a poem.

But our challenge today is to use Imagery in an “Unsubtracted Poem.” We are not modernists. Don’t subtract the rhyme or alliteration. Don’t subtract the meter or rhythm. Don’t subtract the rhetoric and the poetic diction. Put it all together.

Go a little deeper into the Idea of Image? C. S. Lewis’ essay “Image and Imagination” is always recommended.

A little deeper into Imagism? Well. If you want to lean on Ezra Pound, by far the most brilliant poet who was ever an Imagist, you go past the description in words of a picture, and you go into the Image that is actually an Idea. (Lewis would agree so far.) You grasp that this is a Westernization or Anglicization of Asian poetic technique, which is minimalist and delicate for concentrated impact. You understand that, although literary historians talk about Imagism merely as a way-station on the road to fully subtracted Modernism with its extremes of Classicist hardness and spareness, Pound himself wanted something violently renewed, a neo-traditionalism that would refresh and not just revisit, and a marriage of those two opposite artistic tendencies: Romanticism and Classicism.

Then again, if you simply back up and squint at the group of poets Pound so enthusiastically herded up together as examples of his ideas – people who stopped at Imagism, or traveled along easily with whatever came next – you can see that what the Image is about is simply – a picture. Blossoms on a bough, red wheelbarrows and white chickens, whatever. And for this challenge, that’s enough. If you want it to be.

So which direction do we go with this?

Well, for us Imagery will never be a poetic “school” – because poetic schools all make the same mistake. They take a single poetic technique and try to say that technique IS the poem, and everything else is extraneous.

It all started with the French Symbolists, apparently, and their desperate desire to let art be more than art – to let it be something Ultimate (like, impossibly, a Symbol that refers to itself.) So you dig out the diamond from the crown and you make it float in the air high above the throne and you open all the windows and position all the mirrors and make all the light shine right through that diamond from every angle – and that blinding white spot is a poem. Meanwhile, no one can see faces or thrones or baskets or silver spoons or tapestries. And besides, every school said a different technique was a diamond, and threw the rest away as mere golden rubbish.

We are trying to have the whole crown back.

But today let’s shine a little extra light on the gem of Imagery – and I do mean painting words with pictures. And then if we can take it a little further, let several Imagery gems focus light on one another, suggesting a Meaning.

We could have meaning in lots of ways, and because we are Unsubtracted Poets, we will. Some other time. Today, we can have it this way.

The challenge opens now, and remains open forever. Post your poems in the comment section below.

51 Comments »

  1. Wandering from me
    Bent narrow creek
    Long grasses kneel
    Beside the bank and peek

    Glinting glass shards
    Scattered afield
    Dim wistful sun:
    An orange already peeled.

    This was relaxing because the images must only help the reader see; they don’t have to mean anything. I think it’s a good exercise at the very least.

    Like

  2. Dry, dry my heart as desertland—
    Stretching dunes of sand and sand.
    A breath of wind brings breath of dust
    To liven bones that sand encrusts.

    Wet, sweet your words, this water dear—
    Oasis growing green, lush, clear
    As this pale sky of sunset red.
    Mirage! Dead sun limns bones dry-dead.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Alena, after re-reading this poem several times, I see much room for improvement.

      Instead of “that sand encrusts,” how about, “the sands encrust”?

      “Limns” is a very long syllable, so you wouldn’t want to put it in an un-accented position in the meter.

      I wouldn’t use ‘this’ to point at something you could simply refer to.

      The imagery is not coming through very much. The sand encrusting the bones is the only clear image – though it’s a good one, and I’d like to see you expand on it a bit more. Does it glitter, or is it dull? Is it fragile or hardened? Etc.

      Green and lush is descriptive, but not an image. It’s also the description the reader would most expect, so it doesn’t add anything to the reader’s ideas. Remember what John Cleese said – creativity is throwing away your first five ideas.

      “breath of dust” is confusing.

      Saying that the green lush oasis is as clear as a sunset sky is… unclear. Also unclear is whether the sky is pale or red. Those two visual descriptions don’t go together without further clarification.

      I think the poem betrays a struggle to communicate its concept as well. A few places hint at metaphorical meaning: the ‘heart’, the ‘words’. But the poem probably needs to be a stanza or two longer to firmly establish a running metaphor.

      A suggestion: scrap this version (I often scrap several versions of a poem before keeping one) and just start from scratch with the same concept. Make it a short narrative poem instead of a metaphor about one’s inner landscape. Let the outer landscape be real, but let it suggest something about the character’s inner landscape (without fully identifying the two with one another.) I just have this feeling that the poem really wants to be narrative instead of allegorical.

      Another suggestion: Get a book of desert photos from the library, and let what you see from nature (rather than what you see in your mind from all those other books and poems about deserts) provide the images you write about.

      I’d also love to see a poem of imagery from the state you’re now living in. In poetry, nothing beats the thing you met in real life.

      Thanks for contributing!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Alena, I like the concept of this poem. A person whose words seem like the water you crave, but they turn out to be empty, like a mirage. “Water dear” is a double significance that I found meaningful.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks, Charlotte. I’m happy with the concept too! I think Alana has some good suggestions, so I’ll see if I can rework this poem and make those images shine. I appreciate your encouragement.

        Like

  3. Two crows, black wings
    with sunlight ringed,
    circle, swing
    through light, and fling
    in flight through air
    a night of feather
    with sunlight’s wings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think this poem is nearly perfect. I think the last two lines function as summary, but could be mistaken for repetition. Easy fix: set off the last two lines separately. They deserve it anyhow.

      Despite the pleasing alliteration, “flight’ is redundant. I suggest replacing it with ‘themselves.’ I know I usually ask you to make the poem more dense, but you’re right on the verge of too dense. Nicely done.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Alena. I like this poem. I feel like you observed your subject in a fresh way to find these descriptions. “A night of feather/with sunlight’s wings” is just beautiful contrast. And I like the authorial voice that I hear. I like poems that have some subjectivity in them. That aren’t too objective and clinical. This feeds my feelings and gives me a new view of crows and birds in general, while also making me feel like I’ve seen this sight before. Showing us what we already see, with new vision, is one of the best things about poetry, I think. Especially image-heavy poetry. A really nice effort.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you, Charlotte! I borrowed this image of two crows flying from a book I was reading. The author’s description gave me a beautiful, vivid mental picture, so I took the picture and wrote my own poem about it.

        Like

  4. This challenge has been especially broadening for me. I tend to focus on feelings and thoughts and abstractions–sensory descriptions take deliberate effort. But it’s just like physical exercise: by doing it, I improve, and it’s easier next time.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. HIGH VOLTAGE

    Out in the windy world walking
    Between the steep ravening hills
    Taller than trees, silently talking:
    Six-armed Skeleton Bills.

    Skeleton Bills square their shoulders
    Six angry shoulders, and sharp
    Gleaming they go, harder than boulders,
    Thin and high-strung as a harp.

    Skeleton Bills walk away from you
    Always away single-file
    Buzzing like hives, nothing to say to you
    Stomping down wide empty miles.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This one gives me chills. It’s always difficult for me to interact with the modern world imaginatively like this.

      What’s interesting is that rather than containing Images, the whole poem is one long explicated Image. I think it’s quite effective.

      The meter is fairly consistent, though it could be more exact in a few places. You’ve added an extra unstressed syllable at a few places. I don’t think that’s unlawful; it’s just something to be aware of.

      What’s more interesting to me about the rhythm is the way it seems to “talk.” It’s as if each line has a specific speech rhythm to conform to in addition to the meter. Reminds me of Robert Frost in that way.

      An interesting addition to the challenge!

      Like

      • Thanks! I am aware of the errors in meter. I have to sacrifice perfection every time I commit to a form. So I just try to choose the path with the fewest sacrifices possible.

        Robert Frost was an interesting poet and person. I probably have been influenced by his tendency to observe natural speech-rhythms, at least a little. But I think my poem is more artificial than most of his.

        Like

        • I agree, he was fairly modern in his tendency to nestle his poetry into a little cup of daily life. Somehow the shadows in his poems stretch out into a suggestion of epic significance.

          Your poem, as regards content, fits more into the Romanticist/Imaginative side of poetry. I happen to favor it. I find it more inherently poetic, though I still see value in the more realistic or “novelistic” kind of content and approach.

          Like

      • Hah, yes that’s a good question, and one I had to face when I was writing. I think I remember sitting there and looking at the “Skeleton Bills” in my neighborhood, and feeling a little in awe that they were actually taller than many of the trees around. Just enormous things. I tried to find a more original way to say it, but I don’t think there is one – at least not in this simple style I’m attempting here.

        So in the end, I kept it. My rule is that I can keep something, even if it’s a bit used, as long as I observed it personally and as long as it came to me with a sense of newness or freshness.

        Like

        • I can see that. Fair enough. The overall effect isn’t marred by it, I think. And sometimes it helps to be reminded that trees are tall.

          In fact, I think that was Tolkien’s main strategy!

          Like

  6. Imagine if:

    Darting dancing dragonflies
    Were
    Full flowered flying fairies.

    Or

    Lichen loafing lazy
    Was
    Head of Hedgehog hoary.

    It Would Be Better If:

    Bristling blue-black beetles
    Were
    Small silly spaceships.

    And

    Metal moving monsters
    Were
    Literally anything else.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. He’s slow and swift:
    A bird in flight.
    And flying high
    In the dazzling light
    That is glimmering joy
    And melting night
    In a furnace that laughs
    A warm delight.
    Yet,
    He remains:
    A bird in a cage
    Trapped
    By
    Rules.
    In peace, he stays.
    Not a drop of rage
    Can ever rain
    Upon his way.
    For if he strays
    His pathless ways:
    Are
    Endless
    Chaos.

    (This is an original poetry riddle. Can you figure it out?)

    Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you!
        The answer is music. “Poetry” could possibly work, but I don’t consider inconsistent rhythm to always equal chaos. If your words pour out rage and remorse, a chaotic rhythm will hold it together better than than the cookie-cutter mold of perfection. It really depends on the piece of poetry though.

        Like

        • Sorry about the name change. It is one and the same. I think it’s because I made an account with WordPress, so that’s why it changed, at least that’s what I guess.

          Like

        • Well, that brings up an interesting question. Poetry, of course, is musical speech. So even if it doesn’t follow a perfect meter, it should at least have a harmonious rhythmic sense like a symphony… or even a nursery rhyme.

          There’s also the question of whether the form should reflect the content. I think it’s fairly obvious that it should. That leaves us face to face with rage-filled poetry whose form is so exploded that for all intents and purposes it no longer has a form. The only conclusion I can come to is that rage is not a proper content for poetry – which is exactly what you’ve said about music.

          Which is your primary form of art, music or poetry?

          Like

          • Interesting. I appreciate the arts: prose, poetry, music, a painting. It’s all the same to me, in a way. They just glimmer differently. I tend to look at the emotion of poetry, the message that is intertwined in every line as well as the rhythm and the rhyme. An entire poem that rages is no longer poetry, I agree. However, a line or two or three that weeps with pain and helps you see the soul beneath is poetry, at least to me. Music is different. I write poetry for hymns. The texture needs to be consistent otherwise it makes it very difficult to compose.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Oh, definitely… a poem is both art and literature. So it must mean something as literature, and it must depict something as art! And as musical speech, it must also reproduce a sense of emotion or feeling – because that is what music properly does. Poetry is probably the most complex of all the art forms, other than film.

              To me the difference between proper and improper uses of negative emotion in any art form has to do with the principle of imitation. Aristotle teaches us, and it is hard to see it any other way afterward, that all art is founded in mimicry.

              So for me it’s important that the rage contained in a poem is an artful imitation of rage and is not rage itself. The difference is in what the reader feels. When we see King Lear stamping and fuming, we feel awe and pity at his fallen state. We don’t get mad at Cordelia and fly around the house screaming at everyone in sight and smiting the dogs.

              Then what we have in Lear is only a representation of rage; the poet is not putting actual rage into the words.

              When the poet writes from real and present rage so that the feeling gets right into the poem and changes the form, then the reader is no longer viewing a picture of rage, and is no longer free to respond to it with a wise reaction. The rage just goes right into the mind and heart. And that’s not healthy. It’s also not art, because it stops being an imitation of rage, and start just communicating rage.

              So the way I see it, you could have a whole poem about rage and it would be fine, as long as you write it in such a way that you are inviting the reader to see it clearly, not to experience it with you. I’m assuming here that rage is a negative thing, and that we’re not referring to righteous indignation, like E. B. Browning was trying to rouse in her poem about the children working in factories. She actually wanted the reader to feel that indignation, because it was a right and healthy emotional response to the situation. You never see her losing control, however. The verse form never explodes. That’s how I know it’s not a destructive and dark emotion; that’s how I know it’s a feeling fit for poetry.

              I’m like you in loving all the art forms together. The more I can get into the them, the happier I am. I like to see a fine tension and balance between feeling and thought, imagination and realism, and other opposite pairs like that.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Yes, so true! Poetry is very complex. I think that’s why we’re so drawn to it. Perhaps “raging” is not the proper term. Sorrow and weeping are often at the root of “raging” because anger is a second emotion. It spills onto the page, thoroughly misunderstood. It’s genuine, not a mimicry, which is, perhaps, why it may not be considered particularly artistic. Sorrow and melancholy, though, have a particular beauty about them. (If you’re not an enneagram 4, you probably won’t agree.) Also, Aristotle has said,” The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” So I may consider something to be artistic and you wouldn’t consider it that way and vice versa. That’s what I love about Art. What we choose to embrace or reject will quite likely reflect our inner soul. So yes, art is mimicry, and it’s an imitation of us. Solomon was right when he said,” There is nothing new under the sun.”

                By the way, your blog is beautiful, and I really appreciate your thoughts.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Thank you, I’m glad you’re enjoying your time here, and participating.

                  I actually agree that sorrow and melancholy have a particular beauty about them – but primarily when experienced at second hand, in art. As Aristotle also said, “And it is also natural for all to delight in works of imitation. The truth of this second point is shown by experience: though the objects themselves may be painful to see, we delight to view the most realistic representations of them in art, the forms for example of the lowest animals and of dead bodies.”

                  The Pieta would be a sublime example:

                  But the pity we feel for the holy mother would turn wrong if we were to begin believing that she had suffered so we could enjoy her suffering in sculpture. In other words, even when we aren’t aware of the “artistic distance” between real sorrow and imagined sorrow, it is always there. It is the only thing stopping art that takes evil into account from becoming evil itself. (Imagined sorrow may still be about real sorrow, without being real sorrow.)

                  Genuine feeling often does spill out onto the page, but yes that makes it less artistic and more just communication. But “mere” communication can also be fine literature, and it can also be fine verse. Nothing wrong with that. Maybe I’m being too technical about the meaning of the words “poetry” and “art” for the purposes of a casual conversation.

                  I can’t find that “inward significance” quote in the Poetics. Can you point me to the context?

                  Like

  8. The quote is, “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance; for this, and not the external mannerism and detail, is true art.”
    I’m not sure which of his works it’s found in though.

    Yes, there is an artistic line separating sorrow and imagined sorrow. It’s interesting how that Art can create a line so dim it’s hard to know the difference, but it’s there.

    I think there are many poems that are considered poetry that are not particularly poetic. For example, someone writes a Christian poem about hatred for sin (strange topic, but hear me out). It may have perfect rhyme and rhythm, but it’s not particularly poetic. When is a poem not poetry? Is it possible for a poem to not be poetry? Is it simply opinion (reflection of the what one considers Art) or is there “a box” that poetry must fit into while poems may sit on the lid?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, I’ll try to find it.

      You raise a fascinating question. I think we could come at it in several ways. One is to examine the metaphor of a box. I don’t think it’s a bad metaphor; I think it can help us see the difference between two things that tend to get confused.

      The thing about a box is that it has borders or boundaries, so the things inside can’t spill beyond them. That’s the point of the metaphor, right? Something is being artificially kept in?

      If you don’t mind, I’ll substitute a fenced-in yard for convenience. The fence acts as the boundary. Let’s say we put some chickens in there. However much it is natural for chickens to roam over several acres, these chickens cannot. An artificial boundary prevents them – the fence.

      But let’s examine a different boundary. Let’s look at the chicken’s skin. It is a boundary that marks the edges of the chicken itself. It’s a natural boundary, and a good one. It keeps the chicken from exploding and ceasing to be. It is part of the chicken’s essence – what makes the chicken a chicken and not a mere chickenish scent on the air.

      So while I disapprove of putting poetry inside a fence of artificial boundaries, I am very concerned to understand the nature of poetry, including the natural boundaries that allow it to be what it is! These will be determined by the natural shape and function of poetry.

      For while I can see that men make poems, I also believe that God makes men poets. There must be something about poetry that is given, something determined – just because writing it is part of human nature.

      The current model or theory I’m working with is what I call the “ladder of poesy.” Basically, I think there are steps by which we get closer and closer to a word-thing’s being a poem. To have a full unsubtracted poem, we don’t want to leave any of the steps out, because that would be like cutting off the chicken’s wings or feet or beak.

      Here are the steps:

      1 Practiced and established virtue… is Habit.
      2 The habit of working well… is Skill.
      3 The skill of usefulness… is Craft (this step produces verse)
      4
      a. The craft of meaning… is Literature…
      b. while the craft of imitation… is Art. (You can have something that is both literature and art, or you can have non-artistic literature.)
      5 Finally, the art and literature of imagination… is Poetry.

      The epigrammatic form of this argument is very dense, and contains a lot of assumptions that might not be obvious. II always am glad of the chance to hash out these things because it makes me think better.

      However, to get specific: the poem you describe about hating sin sounds like it’s stuck at the level of literature – the craft of meaning. Its primary function is usefulness – the useful function of communicating an intellectual idea.

      For that to have a truly poetic effect, you would need two more things – you would have to bring in artistry through imitation or mimicry, and poesy through imagination.

      So the poet would need to create a character who hates sin, thus imitating a certain type of man; and put him in a dramatic situation where that is either tested, or becomes the key to solving a problem, or affects a relationship, or something of the sort. That would be artistic Literature. Chesterton’s Father Brown detective stories would be a really excellent example of having done this well. Or, the poem could be a speech by such a character, but it could be full of “little imitations” such as metaphors, figures of speech, and narrative examples. At this step the poet could also bring in a representation of feeling. Since loathing of sin is an emotion, why not create a situation or impassioned speech which either helps the reader feel as he ought, or helps him contemplate a feeling?

      To make it poetry, the poet would need to bring in imagination on top of all this. This is the most subtle thing of all. Just by creating a fictional character in the first step, we already have something that is fairly poetic, because it involves the imagination.

      However, to make the verse even more poetic, the poet could add some fantastical or implausible or marvelous elements to really bring the situation alive and delight the reader. So take the man who hates sin, and make him a knight who gets lost in the wilderness of Faery and roams about seeking for the White Lady of Truth. Now we can’t doubt this is poetry – especially if the skillful verse is still involved. This would be the kind of thing Spenser does in The Fairie Queen.

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    • So I checked on the Aristotle quote. It traces back to a Wikipedia article, where the citation is not to any book by Aristotle, but to a 1967 book about portrait painting. The book is out of print and hard to get, and there is no digital or ebook version. In other words, this is probably a spurious quote, something Aristotle never said, that has just been blown around the internet.

      I’m not surprised because it’s the exact opposite of what Aristotle actually thought about art. In fact, no one thought this way – no one could think this way about art – until Christian theology had so degenerated and lost its hold on the world, that philosophy in turn could fracture into hundreds of bewildering, contradictory schools, and finally art philosophy could go off the rails.

      It sounds like a Crocean sentiment, to be honest. This is a view of art that stems from the philosophy of Idealism, which basically says the world isn’t real, only our thoughts exist.

      In our own day, Idealism has given way to a false scientism which says that even our thoughts are illusions – though they can’t seem to explain who or what is having the illusion, if nothing really exists.

      Well, you can see how the art version of that would be to say, “The rhyme and rhythm and sound isn’t real, just the meaning;” or “the paint and the shape and the color aren’t real, just the mood the artist was having when he painted.”

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