Abstract Reality

One of the most challenging thing for writers, in my opinion, is avoiding abstraction in your work, especially in a medium like poetry. I’ve fallen victim to the use of words like “fear,” “anger,” and ironically, “clarity.” The words seem powerful enough, but they can vastly differ from person to person. Reading poems from Gandy Dancer, Erin Kae’s Grasp This Salt, as well as Aracelis Girmay’s The Black Maria, I was greeted with vivid imagery like “Our roadmap folds into a fan and shoots into the puck//ered eye of a toll booth worker,” in Mitchell Angelo’s “Motion Sickness.”

I think some of it lies in the fact that when I get inspired or get an idea for a poem I feel compelled, like many, to write it down. But in the process of getting it down, I overlook the necessity of revising and editing my lines to include more specific details rather than just broad ideas. To me it feels like writing an outline for a short story, or maybe writing the entire thing in just exposition. To get the idea of what you want to say but it’s not as fulfilling as it could be.

I’ve been exploring the poetry resources online and found a few places where they list abstract words to avoid in writing. I think some of the most surprising I’ve found have been “envy,” and “sorrow.” They feel like strong words, but I can see how they lack the specificity required to break free of the “abstract” label.

One Reply to “Abstract Reality”

  1. I don’t agree, I feel that, when used in conjunction with grounded images and striking actions, abstractions can be powerful. Of course, you don’t want to use a word like “envy” on it’s own, but when you connect it, support it to something unconventional and unexpected, it can be much more appealing. Something like, I don’t know, “glass of envy” or ” seven swords of envy” feel much more striking because the abstraction is attached to a physical, concrete object where it doesn’t belong, no one would expect it to be, but is can still hint at a theme. The abstraction can also be a powerful tool when you don’t want to give too much away- when you want to leave a bit to the reader’s imagination, make them work for a symbol or an metaphor.

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