Communication Through Imagery

The question of how to portray images as they appear originally in the author’s mind is a constant point of consideration and discussion in poetry writing and in the work-shopping process. Is it possible though, that poetry and other forms of creative writing provide what may actually be our best shot at reaching others with what we are thinking?

In the major authors course I am taking right now on Virginia Woolf and D.H. Lawrence, we are currently reading the writing of Woolf, and some of her ideas relate directly to this concept. I felt inspired to think further into this, and I believe that at least in part Woolf may be trying to argue for this point through her work—that writing may indeed be the closest anyone can come to truly expressing their inner life and connecting to others. One of the themes that tends to permeate Woolf’s works is the issue of basically how anyone can ever hope to glean anything close to the correct picture of what others are thinking or feeling. And this is an incredibly fair point; two people may look at the same scene at a park for example, or even the same leaf, and have completely separate memories or ideas come to mind. Her question seems to be: how can one ever hope to understand another person when the internal mental realms in which we live are so vastly different? When you become close to someone you can develop a type of intuition into how they think, but it can never be a complete view. Verbal communication also falls short, and so that leaves us with written expression.

I’d like to agree with the view that this is our best chance at connection. True, it can be difficult to put something down on paper in a way that is translatable from your mind to a reader’s interpretation, but I think it is a challenge for a reason and very worth it. If correctly harnessed, the ability to write can be a boundlessly powerful tool, connecting people from all backgrounds and with all levels of familiarity. The only prerequisite for this type of communication is the desire to understand.

Transcending and learning patience

I am now in a place where I am wondering how I could explore my identity through poetry while at the same time make sure that readers are able to determine the underlying message about the bigger issues happening in the world in regards to human expression and current events. This brings me to the question, how can I weave my exploration of self, philosophy, and the things I learn from observing the world around me, without losing my reader in musings about my personal life and abstractions?

This past year I have felt a mental block whenever I write. When I was younger, I would put my pen to paper and the words would flow right out. But now, I am understanding that what I previously thought was a mental block is actually an awareness that my poetry is no longer just for me, and because of that I am more aware and more careful about what I write on the page. That means that my poems require more time, more research and more introspection on my behalf.

What I am struggling with right now, and I am hoping is not a decision I have to make any time soon is choosing a subject to dedicate my poems to outside of myself. The work I have to do is implement both my personal perspective, while informing the reader about the world around them in order to inspire, reveal, or bring about change. While my personal emotions and recollections can be inspiring to some by themselves, I am beginning to think that it isn’t exactly fair to just have someone read a poem for the sake of feeling like my personal thoughts are important enough to read about. While I thought once upon a time that this kind of poetry was about connectedness and bringing someone into my own world or creating empathy, the question I am currently struggling with is, what makes my world worth stepping into?

Throughout my time as a poet, I have lacked a sort of focus. I have always tried to squeeze all my ideas onto a single poem and I have tried to rush the process. What time has taught me is that anything good takes patience, it cannot be done impatiently. There is nothing really more important waiting for you than the product that will come out of taking your time with something.

A Train of Thought

For the past few months, I’ve been struggling with the topics in my writing which my brain has been leading me to (if that made any sense at all). I feel I write too much about specific aspects of my life that, at this point, I’d rather put to rest.

Evidently, this is where my mind and I disagree. Because even when I try to write about other topics, I can’t help but return to the older topics, and I feel as though I am writing the same story from different angels: kid leads shitty life because of x, y, and z, grow up to be a messed up adult dealing with a, b, and c… It’s actually kind of annoying.

The idea of seeing things with one eye that we do not see with the second resonated with me. No, I doubt the writer was referring to anything PTSD/trauma related… but I liked the idea anyway, and am hijacking it for the sake of this post.

I’ve worked with both foster kids and adult-aged drug addicts via internships, and something I’ve noticed in both groups is they each have dealt with trauma through their lives. The kids (aging anywhere between infants to ~21) generally don’t register their own trauma. They may talk about it, but it’s like they’re just stringing words together that they’ve heard without understanding. This is how trauma is seen in the eyes of children. The adults have a greater understanding of whatever trauma they faced as adults. Even if they can’t put words to what happened, you can tell that they–through their older eyes–have a clearer picture of what happened.

And this is where writing about trauma get difficult. Trying to write from both eyes, the younger and the older. Viewing the image from the younger, but analyzing with the older.

I have no idea where I’m going with this. There’s my train of thought.

Where Do You Get Your Inspiration From?

Hey friends,

I’ve been considering lately the different places from which we, as artists, draw our inspiration from, mainly for the purpose of borrowing ideas for potential muses from other artists. So what inspires or informs upon your writing or other creative endeavors? For me, I love writing when I’m out in nature, although I haven’t gone out in a long time. The writing itself, however, is often prompted from snippets of conversation I hear or some interesting word or phrase I read. I usually can’t write with music on, but I love looking up lyrics or listening to other poets and mimicking their styles.

So, I’ll admit, I have an ulterior motive for making this blog post. I’m also writing another blog post for another class (Editing & Production/Gandy Dancer) and I need your help! If you’re willing for your response to be reproduced on the Gandy Dancer site, please indicate so somewhere in your reply so that we can spread the inspiration! If not, then no worries, I’m still curious for my own personal sake.

 

Scattering the Pieces of an Image

One thing I struggle with in my poems is to have a sense of urgency to one image – or have an image that tells a story and gets across one very specific feeling. In a lot of the things I write, one specific image isn’t central even when I want it to be, or the wordiness of the rest of the poem overshadows the images themselves.

Something my friend and fellow poet Evan suggested during a workshop was to read David Roderick’s collection The Americans—and he specifically pointed out this short poem in the collection:

Dear Suburb,

Just once I’d like to come home
to find that you’ve scattered the pieces
of a saxophone all over my bed.

Looking at the pieces of the poem, it’s a bunch of different things – a letter to a suburb, a claim of frustration, the want for destruction, something about music, etc. But all together, in the one short stanza, it becomes something else entirely. I’ve been trying to emulate this kind of thing in my own poetry, but can never quite get it—I’m historically terrible at writing very short poems and being able to make them meaningful, but referencing Roderick’s writing has helped me start to assess the necessary pieces needed to make the images pop. What is it about those individual parts that, when read as one, make them transcend into a very specific emotion? Why the saxophone specifically? How would the image have changed if it had been a violin scattered on the bed? Did he stress about the kind of instrument for as long as I’ve thought about certain words in my poems?

This poem, like the ones I’ve been struggling through in my writing, exists in a series of poems titled Dear Suburb, as well as in the collection itself, which has made me start to wonder if images change when presented alongside other poems. If we had read Pound’s Metro Station immediately after reading Whitman’s Song of Myself, would Pound’s image have become something different, or is the image such a perfect objective correlative that the feeling it represents remains the same regardless of the environment? Is that something we should strive for our images to be, something that can remain the same regardless of what happens around it?

I’ve been muddling through all of these questions in the past couple weeks (and months, even) as I’ve examined the central images in my poem, or the lack thereof. I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on whether it’s helpful to break the image down into pieces, or if our interpretations of image based poems change depending on their surroundings!

Verb Repository

 

This past week I’ve been thinking about two things, both related to words. The first is Pound’s defense of small words in poetry, and his argument that simple language can be effective language when handled correctly. The second thing was Richardson’s stance on using strong verbs, something I don’t think often enough about in my writing. For this reason, I decided to compile a list of short and (hopefully) image-provoking verbs to combine both these trains of thought.

Alert, attach, auction, babble, balk, barf, baste, bathe, bellow, bleach, blind, blot, bolt, burnish, cajole, caution, chide, clip, coast, coil, comb, counter, covet, crochet, croak, cycle, dam, deal, decay, desert, deter, dial, dive, drill, drone, dupe, dust, dye, earn, elope, emit, expel, extol, face, falter, fasten, fax, fence, file, fire, floss, flower, fret, fry, fume, gag, gather, gild, glue, grease, grow, growl, grunt, gurgle, gush, hammer, harness, heap, hoot, hover, hum, hurry, ice, inflate, infuse, inspect, irritate, iron, itch, jab, jeer, jest, kid, knell, knit, knock, knot, laminate, last, level, lick, list, loan, linger, lisp, mail, mar, mend, meow, mix, mop, mutter, nag, nail, nap, nest, ogle, oil, paddle, paint, paste, pause, peck, pelt, pester, phone, plant, pry, quilt, retire, rock, sack, sail, savor, scrape, seal, shriek, shrug, singe, ski, slink, slow, smoke, snarl sneeze, snicker, snore, sow, spark, squirt, stammer, stamp, strain, strum, sway, swoop, tame, tear, thaw, toast, tow, trim, trounce, upstage, usurp, vacuum, venture, vouch, wallow, wash, weave, wink, wrap, Xerox, yellow, zest, zero, zincify, zip, zone.

 

 

The Language of Poets and Philosophers

While reading the piece on image by Philip, I found myself thinking of something my German professor said on the first day of our 101 class a couple of years ago—That German is the language of poets and philosophers.

Philip discusses images behind individual words, but something he forgets to do, and something I see a lot of people within the English speaking world forget to do, is to look at the image/s brought up by the sentence as a whole. While languages such as German put strenuous rules on individual words (e.g. gendered nouns, various cases), English compensates for its lack of gender and cases by forming a very strict sentence structure: Noun, verb, preposition, possible second proposition, object—e.g. “he went to the store.”

German, on the other hand, has only one grammatical law: That the verb must be in the second place of the sentence, with the subject right beside it. So while in German it would be grammatically correct for me to say “The store went the man to,” English-speaking people would likely assume I’ve just had a stroke. In English, we put most of our emphasis on the subject—“the man went to the store.” While this more common in the German language, it is equally correct for me to put that same amount to emphasis on another part of the sentence—“the store went the man to.” The latter sentence forces the reader to look at the store first, thereby subtly altering the image behind the sentence in a way the English language simply cannot do, and thereby embracing a certain amount of creativity and meaning the English language lacks.

Learning About Yourself Through the Image

After class on Tuesday I began thinking about the comment one of our classmates made about my poem. Specifically the line “hands folded over bellyfolds.” She said that she interpreted it as a representation of self-consciousness, and that’s what I intended for it to be at the time I wrote the poem. It surprised me how such a direct image was interpreted as something more abstract by most of my classmates, when in fact I intended it to be exactly what it said. A girl with her hands folded over her stomach. Usually this position is taken in instances of discomfort or impatience, and I wonder if as poets we tend to think about a phrase so thoroughly that we forget its simpler meaning.

But what this comment sparked most of all were thoughts about how an image can teach me about myself. Because, yes I intended the image to be a representation of self-consciousness, but I had not thought about my intentions until my poem was being workshopped. And I would not have been able to put my intentions into the exact words our classmate did. Which means that even though subconsciously I was aware that the image represented self-consciousness, I was not consciously aware until someone pointed it out to me.

Which brings me to my main point about how the images we write in our poems, transcribed through a personal lens, are representative of ourselves. Why have I seen this image in this specific way? Why am I describing it with these words? What does this say about me, my mental/emotional state, my past, my present, and the life I have led? And finally, why is this image wanting to come out in my poem? What does my writing want to tell me about myself and the way I see the world? Our writing in general, knows us better than we know ourselves. Through it we are able to see ourselves and evaluate those things which we seem to deny or be blind to.

So this girl, with hands folded over belly folds is important because she reveals to me a part of myself I deny, that is a girl who is self-conscious and who feels the need to fight against that. And that’s part of why I love writing because through it I learn about myself and heal.

What kind of music do you make?

The reading for today’s class, Rachel Richardson’s “Learning Image and Description,” sparked a newfound interest in sound for me. I have always noticed that in order to make a poem resonate well with its audience, the sound and momentum of the words must be in sync with its message. This is something that I’ve always been in awe of when hearing poetry. At slam poetry shows, I would be so in tune with the poet’s emotions because of the way that the poem sounded (although of course much of this also lends itself to the fact that the poet is performing.) But even in a poem that is meant to be read, rather than performed (the latter is subjective), like Maya Angelou’s “Caged Bird,” we can hear sounds as a bird takes flight. The depth of what it means to be  caged bird is pronounced because of the way that the flutter and breeze in its flight create a melody.

I’ve been looking into how to improve this in my own poetry. I ask myself questions, “Must I be a musician to write poetry?” Rhythm isn’t something that I’ve ever been good at. Two left feet have haunted me my entire life. Only recently, enlightened by the culture of places I’ve been to, have I been able to properly whine, capturing the tick-tock of the reggae. Before I only imitated. How can I produce the same success in my writing?

Perhaps with some writers it is just natural. A sort of vomiting of utterances and emotions that fall upon the page in the form of a tune. Do you guys have any thoughts and advice? Richardson mentions that the images in poems work because of their music: “Do they make music together? A percussive rhythm, an alliterative lull, an onomatopoetic evocation?” But how can I better form these images through music?

Touch

Touch by John Godfrey

The gauntlet puts on weight

and I climb into its thumb

which balances and then teeters

and thuds against my nose

and I see stars forever having

forgot aspirations of diligence and method

whatever was the retreat in research

and pursuit in gravity of something

to do while resting in geological sleep

where to touch is to be felt by nothing

 

I think to understand “Touch” by John Godfrey, a reader should know a little bit about the daily life of this poet: an HIV clinician and nurse, Godfrey has seen much of his life through the perspective of his patients, which reflects strongly in his poetry.

Whether or not this piece is a direct commentary on working with HIV/AIDS patients, I think that this lens was probably influential in writing this poem that I believe says a lot about isolation and feelings of helplessness. In the first two stanzas, the dual usage of “gauntlet” adds an immediate heaviness to the poem, especially since the speaker must climb into it, losing his balance in the process. This is an image of isolation and desensitization, since the gauntlet is armor and a separation of people and their touch. The poem immediately and almost jarringly shifts from a micro to macro perspective in the third stanza with talk of the stars and what the speaker sees as both “forever” and “forgot”—these epitomal signs of hope are to the speaker also harbingers of forgotten methods and confusion. This confusion and listlessness is emphasized even further in the fourth stanza where research, a thing of “gravity”, is surrounded in the sphere of retreat and is in search of an elusive “something”, showing a lack of purpose. The gauntlet separates skin from skin and person from person, touch meaning nothing in this impersonal interaction. The phrase “geological sleep” for me echoes throughout the poem—a sleepiness and absence that is something reminiscent of hollow dreams, and through this phrase we really feel a sensory and emotional disconnect.