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!

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