Poetry for an audience

Something I’ve struggled since the beginning of this workshop course is the audience I write for, more specifically one who doesn’t know my background. I find myself writing very specific and abstract poems about certain situations in my life that aren’t backed up by concrete imagery, something pointed out in my latest critique by Professor Smith. With my latest pieces (most recently “As I watch the seagulls fly away;”), I have been trying to stay away from such specific stories.

This one was about drifting apart from a friend, a poem crafted not out of a real conversation but our stances on 1) our drifting apart and 2) my leaving at the end of this year. I think that’s where the vague stance of the “you” and “we” came out especially.

Something else is that the connotations I have in my mind aren’t what everybody else has. For example, the connotation of seagulls might bring up summer walks along Port Jeff or Robert Moses Park in Long Island for some people, or the Atlantic City boardwalk, or a rocky beach along the coast of Oregon for some. Personally for me, the line

“what calls these grey-streaked,

curved beaks with scratches

from lunch-hours spent

hunting bread-crumbs ”

was written from a few moments watching seagulls (or gulls, as Evan pointed out) just happily go from bread crumb to bread crumb at lunch in front of Southside Cafe one day during freshman year. With this in mind, I think research as well as just broader consideration of what certain images (such as seagulls) might have for others.

I think the bottom-line is that it’s hard to juggle the line between concrete imagery that might have the wrong connotations to what I am trying to portray/the story I am trying to tell and abstractions that tell, rather than show, what I am trying to accomplish.

The former, with the wrong imagery, would be a poem with the wrong story and the latter would be a badly written poem that tells rather than shows its story. I hope by the end of this semester I can juggle this line better.

2 Replies to “Poetry for an audience”

  1. I think a good way to go about choosing images that will resound with a larger audience is to think about mood, tone, atmosphere, and context. A white shirt is a clear image, but the connotations can change depending on its context in a poem. I think one way to improve your ability to write more concrete poems is to reflect on a personal experience and gather sensory images that defined that moment. Where was the gull perched specifically in your memory? Was it walking beneath the table right outside of Southside, or did it rest on a branch in a nearby tree? You want to think about moving from the particular to the universal, so maybe you can describe your experience with vivid images, but then draw out the feelings or ideas that everyone (or a specific audience, fellow students perhaps) can relate to. You’re on the right track with this and we are all trying our best, so you’re not alone. Best of luck.

  2. DongWon,
    I think that the way your poem conjures up multiple images is one of its strengths. I personally consider it a victory if there are a few readings other than my own personal intent when I write for workshop, because that just points to the complexity of human experience. I think that, while the poem itself will be stronger if you use more concrete details and a bit more (dare I say it) context, I think the misty quality your poetry seems to have will have a harder time shining through. I hope you can find a balance between the concrete and the abstract, because I really love where your work is going with this piece!

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