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Old 09-29-2015, 03:54 AM View Post #1 (Link) Painting Poems
2sh4r (Offline)
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DISCLAIMER: This is by no means a definitive or authoritative guide. If you disagree with something, feel free to let me know. I would love a discussion (or debate if you’re feeling more argumentative).

As far as I understand it, poems have three large organs or body parts: image, sound, and ideas/emotions.

This “guide” will attempt to discuss the image.

Poems have often been compared to paintings* because both (often) attempt to portray some sort of image. The painting acts more directly – a painter just paints a scene for you. The poet paints a scene using words.

We speak of burnished lakes,
And of dry air, as clear as metal.
That's the great American poet Ezra Pound, and the last line "as clear as metal" conjures an image of a clear, metal surface to mind. The previous line also works to create image. Imagine if Pound had said something like this:

We speak of burnished lakes,
and of dry air, which is very clear.
That's not nearly as powerful.

For reasons that I can only guess at (and that I would love to discuss), the image usually appeals to the reader more than abstractions, and some element of poetry (and all literature really) is about appealing to the reader.

I think, now that I've (hopefully) given some intuition of what it means to construct an image, I should try and define it. The term "image" is somewhat deceiving because it implies that the poet is only appealing to the sight sense when, in reality, he/she is appealing to any of the five senses (sight, sound, touch, smell, taste).

If you compare the sound of laughter to that of gurgling water, that's an "image". If you portray a campfire setting by describing the sweet smell of burning wood, that's an "image". If you compare the taste of your lover's lip-gloss to a lollipop, that's an "image".

Images can be used for a lot of things. They can be describe something old in a new way (my love is like a fluttering finger). Or they can be used to describe something new in an old way. If, for example, you're trying to describe a glacier to someone whose never seen one, you could try to describe it in terms of something they knew very well.

You'll find that images are usually portrayed via metaphor or simile (important terms to look up, but I would be shocked if you hadn't heard of them before).

I think I should end with a note about the poetry of the greats. You'll find that if you go back and read through your favorite poems, they're not overloaded with very strong images. That's because they mastered the skill a long time ago and learned how to use it at only the right moments. But most of us have not mastered the skill of image-construction, and we still have to work on it.

Hope I helped. If my writing is unclear or confusing at any points, please let me know, and I'll go back and try to expound.

*If you are interested in the comparison between painting and poem, you should read "Why I am Not a Painter" by Frank O'Hara. It's pretty great.
  
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Old 09-29-2015, 04:10 AM View Post #2 (Link)
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Just realized there's a way more in-depth thread about imagery.

Go read Isis'.
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Old 09-29-2015, 04:17 AM View Post #3 (Link)
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I'm linking to Isis' Imagery Guide here, because I thought that shit was stickied. It should be.

But I still wanna have this discussion here and now, down and dirty. I've read a lot of poetry and good imagery is still the biggest suckerpunch a poem can pull.

Flower Herding on Mount Monadnock (by Galway Kinnell) is full to breaking with good imagery, but there's this one image, not even the best one, that killed me when I read it, because it describes so well a very specific sight I've been trying to describe since I was six or seven and saw the thing described for the first time:
From a rock
A waterfall,
A single trickle like a strand of wire,
Breaks into beads halfway down.


Tomorrow I'll have more coherent thoughts on this, maybe.
  
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Old 09-30-2015, 11:54 PM View Post #4 (Link)
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So - if we're going to discuss what makes images important, I think there are two factors to consider that are really important:

1. the nature of human thought

2. the nature of language (and written language in specific)

The two are intertwined in a way that its hard to talk about one and not talk about the other, so I'm just going to ramble and hope that I'm coherent.

I think before we learn to talk, we think in terms of images. I have no real evidence for this, its just speculation based on my own experiences and observations.

Call up any word to mind - most words (but not all) will have an image associated with them, even words as vague as "love" or "everything" or "Alex". And I don't think its necessarily just one image that associates itself with a word - rather several images (perhaps hundreds of images, depending on the word). And after a while, your mind might start to produce images for certain words, depending on the patterns you've observed.

I think words might be the product of an effort to communicate those images. When the first men were constructing language, they might have pointed to a fire and said "Uh-uh". From then on, "uh-uh" meant fire, but before he had distinguished that, he and his tribesmen had already known what a fire was because their eyes showed it to them. It was an image that they were labeling.

It might be interesting to think about words that don't have any image - the one that comes to mind is the verb "to be". If I insert the word "is" into your mind, what image does that produce? For me, it produces nothing, which I think comments on how vast (or vague) "to be" is.

The more I think about it, the more I realize how fascinating this is. The fact that we process words and images in this way represent, I think, an essential facet of the existential experience of being a human. What I'm trying to say is that the senses (touch, sight, hearing, taste, are the way we experience the world. I know we learned this in kindergarten, but I'm only realizing how rudimentary and monumental this is now. Nothing exists without the senses. Everything exists only because we sense it.

"Everything we see exists, we can see it. I can see mommy's eyes, but I can't see my eyes. The little baby can see his hands, but he cannot see himself. So, does he really exist? Do I really exist?" - Mr. Nobody

If a baby was born with no senses, what would its mind be like? I would imagine that its mind would remain in a sort of comatose state. And if we renewed his/her sense of touch, lets say, he/she would miraculously come to life.

But I don't know. Those might just be the ramblings of a mad man. Thoughts?
  
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Old 10-01-2015, 01:30 AM View Post #5 (Link)
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Replying to the last bit about babies born without senses, I've got this ethically unsound but enlightening experiment. In sum: If you sew a kitten's eye shut when it is born, but then open it 3 weeks later, it never gains vision in that eye. If you expose a kitten to ONLY horizontal lines from birth, it will have no perception of vertical lines when you introduce them to it as an adult.

What does this have to do with imagery? It suggests that the brain deals with new input by comparing it to old input. It suggests that concepts we've never experienced are hard or impossible to grasp; we need some basis. Maybe we can put multiple pieces together: having been exposed to horizontal and vertical lines, we can understand squares. Maybe we can put together an abstraction like "love" by compiling all the ways it's been presented to us-- family, friends, depictions in television and literature. But the further we delve into that abstraction, the more we return to the familiar, the sharper the picture gets. "brotherly love" is something more specific than "love," and maybe therefore clearer. "Brother" is concrete. We can create an image of the love we mean, maybe, by talking about someone's brother.
Often imagery seems to just be a way of being specific and returning to familiar sights that are easier to perceive.

And this may be a nod to what poets can do without figurative language. The poem in my sig doesn't involve any, but it's strong, isn't it? The words are specific.

"Is" may not conjure an image, but that lack of an image is infinity in a way; for this reason, "I am that I am" is the most interesting name of god.

But none of this actually touches on the original image in this thread, Pound's. He wasn't taking something we can't sense and turning it into something tangible. Lakes are tangible enough, air is tangible enough. So the next question has to be, why do we link multiple tangible things? What are we adding? Why isn't naming enough?

Not that we've answered the previous question or that any of my thoughts are accurate.
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Old 10-01-2015, 02:24 PM View Post #6 (Link)
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If we're going back to the first image from the Pound poem:
We speak of burnished lakes,
And of dry air, as clear as metal.
I think part of the interestingness of the image is how visual and sound and feel all work together. You mentioned before how images are not just visual, but they involve all the senses. Here, this image invokes 3 for me: sight, feel, sound. And the ideas are woven together; words often used to describe one word are cut and pasted elsewhere. Think about the word "burnished": that's usually used to describe metal. But it's not, not right away: "burnished" describes the lakes, making me think of them as hard and shiny and worn and sharp maybe ... and that puts me in the right state of mind for "clear as metal" in the next line. And then, again, "clear" describing metal - that could describe a lake visually, but not metal. But I get sound from it: I imagine the clear ring of metal in cold dry air, and that helps me feel the snap of the air on my skin and my ears.



I want to put something else on the table for discussion real quick, because I wrap my brain in knots all day over data and the philosophy of experience is SO not possible for me right now.

Maybe we can take a look at this from the intro to this discussion of poetry as painting:
Originally Posted by 2sh4r View Post
I think I should end with a note about the poetry of the greats. You'll find that if you go back and read through your favorite poems, they're not overloaded with very strong images. That's because they mastered the skill a long time ago and learned how to use it at only the right moments. But most of us have not mastered the skill of image-construction, and we still have to work on it.
Let's take a look at the first few lines of Howl:

Originally Posted by Allen Ginsberg, Howl, Part I
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo
--- in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness
--- of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering
---on tenement roofs illuminated,
That's a lot of images, all swirling around a similar thing, a lot of specific words and things and places generating the minds and people that he's writing about.

P.S. thanks for the guide shout-out - also, I wrote the original version of that thing 8 years ago. I'm old.
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Old 10-02-2015, 02:45 AM View Post #7 (Link)
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That's a lot of images, all swirling around a similar thing, a lot of specific words and things and places generating the minds and people that he's writing about.
I was really referring to older poetry. More modern poems are often birthed from imagism, which avoids abstractions altogether, focusing only on things. "No ideas but in things" - William Carlos Williams

Of course that's a generalization, and I think there's a fair amount of room for abstraction in modern poetry.

But take a poem like "Invictus: the Unconquerable" by William Ernest Henley. Many of the descriptions are vague and the images are unclear. It even ends with two lines of abstraction:

I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul.
Well, all those things conjure some sort of image to mind. "Captain" is the strongest, being the captain of a ship. With "soul" I see something wispy and blue. But the images are not nearly clear enough to stand by imagism standards.
  
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Old 10-02-2015, 02:54 AM View Post #8 (Link)
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So the next question has to be, why do we link multiple tangible things? What are we adding? Why isn't naming enough?
I think that - for the poet at least - there might be something pleasurable about viewing the world via metaphors and similes. For example, today, when I was walking to class, a girl's heels going clack clack clack against the pavement drew my attention. I thought "the clack clack clack-ing of heels is like a mating call", and I was pleasantly surprised at the strange connection my mind had just made. I jotted it down later and thought that I might use it in a poem.

I think that those little connections that we make in our minds are idiosyncrasies. And underneath all the love of words, intellectual exercises, etc., poets might just want to express those idiosyncrasies and be understood. But I don't know. That's a guess. That's what Anne Carson believes too. We studied her last semester.

I'm curious as to why readers enjoy reading poems that ask them to bend their minds and make strange connections that they couldn't see at first.
  
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Old 10-02-2015, 02:57 PM View Post #9 (Link)
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Originally Posted by 2sh4r View Post
I was really referring to older poetry. More modern poems are often birthed from imagism, which avoids abstractions altogether, focusing only on things. "No ideas but in things" - William Carlos Williams

Of course that's a generalization, and I think there's a fair amount of room for abstraction in modern poetry.
I'm a little confused by this in regards to the idea of being restrained in the use of imagery, or using it at only the right moment. Are the only greats people who wrote poetry 100 years ago? Is the best way to use imagery with restraint? Are there other useful, powerful ways to use imagery? How does one know the exact right moment to use an image, and only an image?
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Old 10-02-2015, 03:18 PM View Post #10 (Link)
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Are the only greats people who wrote poetry 100 years ago?
No. My wording was just confusing.

The large majority of poetry comes from over a hundred years ago though (I think the English tradition extends about 800 years before the advent of imagism), and most of "the greats" aren't modern. And if you look at the poetry of a hundred years ago, you won't see all that many clear images. Well, I hate saying that because it isn't strictly true.

Maybe, its better to say it like this: some poems don't have a lot of clear images, but they're still powerful. That's because the author uses whatever device they're using very well. Regardless, beginner poets should try to master the skill of creating images.

Is the best way to use imagery with restraint? Are there other useful, powerful ways to use imagery?
I mean yea. I don't care how you use a device if its powerful or interesting.

How does one know the exact right moment to use an image, and only an image?
Via practice and intuition.
  
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