Embracing Multitudes: On imagination + imagery in poetry
This one-hour webinar is open to any writer interested in learning more about imagery, and how poets use sensory details to create specific images that saturate and echo throughout their work. This webinar is led by Ashley Taylor, a poet performer and MFA candidate at Spalding University’s School of Professional and Creative Writing. Ashley is an educator who designs diverse, collaborative creative arts workshops.
We will learn:
- what an image is,
- how we experience images as readers, and
- how to build an image in our own writing.
INFLUENCES + Resources
marty mcconnell + the gathering voices approach
(1) We value the potential, the experience, and the perspective each person brings. This is reflected in our words, actions, and attitudes.
(2) We approach poems not as broken things in need of fixing, nor as objects of like or dislike, but as subjects of study and analysis, artworks whose possibilities we get to unpack.
(3) We come ready to work, eager to engage, and committed to creating a positive, challenging environment for everyone.
- Curiosity about new perspectives, approaches, and possibilities;
- Receptivity to ideas, to art, to each other;
- Joy in the work and in the community; and
- Rigor in our approach to growth, both our own and other people’s.
huey + kaneko, poetry: a writer’s guide and ANTHOLOGY
Not only is writing a practice, but the practice of writing is a muscle we strengthen through habitual reading and writing *and* a rhetorical practice with intentional language choices.
michael kardos, the art and craft of fiction
Being a writer means paying attention to the world around you, discovering and developing a focused study and guided practice of description and storytelling.
Mary Oliver. “Imagery.”
A Poetry Handbook, p. 92.
what is an image?
“The language of the poem is the language of particulars…It is the detailed, sensory language incorporating images that gives the poem dash and tenderness.
How is it done? What is meant by ‘particulars?’
What are images? How does this figurative language work?
Imagery, means, generally, the representation of one thing by another thing.
A statue is an image.
When Robert Burns wrote, ‘O, my luve is like a red red rose,’ that rose is an image; Burns was using imagery.
If Burns had written ‘My love is sweet, wild, wonderful, you would like her,’ he would have been using descriptive language, but no imagery.”
“Figurative Language is another term for imagery. When we talk about figurative language, we mean that in the poem there is a figure – an image – that is, a concrete, nonliteral, informing representation of something. This ‘something’ might be a person, a thing, or an abstraction.”
Mary Oliver. “Imagery.” A Poetry Handbook, p. 93.
- Nickole Brown, “Prayer to be Still and Know”
- Ada Limón, “What It Looks Like to Us and the Words We Use”
- Danez Smith, “Dinosaurs in the Hood”
- Roya Marsh “Black Joy”
as we read + listen
- What images engage you?
- What stands out to you?
- What patterns do you notice?
Take some notes on what holds your interest, connections you make (between poems or within the poems), and allow yourself to stay in wonder here of what holds your interest.
Do not worry so much about “figuring out why” – just take notes on what connections you see, what echoes.
“Prayer to be Still and Know”
Lord, let my ears go secret agent, each
a microphone so hot it picks up things
silent, reverbing even the hum of stone
close to its eager, silver grill. Let my ears forget
years trained to human chatter
wired into every room, even those empty
except of me, each broadcast and jingle
tricking me into being less
lonely than I am. Let my ears forget
the clack and rumble, our tambourining and fireworking
distractions, our roar of applause. Let my hands quit
their clapping and rest in a new kind of prayer, one
that doesn’t ask but listens, palms up in my lap.
Like an owl, let me triangulate icy shuffling under snow as
vole, let me not just name the name
when I spot a soundtrack of birdsong
but understand the notes through each syrinx
as a singular missive—begging, flirting, fussing, each
companion call and alarm as sharp with desire and fear
as my own. Prick my ears, Lord. Make them hungry
satellites, have your way with their tiny bones,
teach the drum within that dark to drum
again. Because within the hammering of woodpecker
is a long tongue unwinding like a tape measure from inside
his pileated head, darting dinner from the pine’s soft bark.
And somewhere I know is a spider who births
a filament of silk and flies it to the next branch; somewhere,
a fiddlehead unstrings its violin into the miracle of
fern. And somewhere, a mink not made into a coat
cracks open a mussel’s shell, and with her mouth full
of that gray meat, yawns. Those are your sounds, are they not?
Do not deny it, Lord, do not deny
- I do not know those songs. Nor do I know the hush
a dandelion’s face makes when it closes, surrenders, then goes
to seed. No, I only know the sound my own breath makes
as I wish and blow that perfect globe away;
I only know the small, satisfactory
popping of roots when I call it weed and yank it
from the yard. There is a language of all
you’ve created. Hear me, please. I just want to be
still enough to hear. Right here, Lord:
I want to be.
“what it looks like to us and the words we use”
All these great barns out here in the outskirts,
black creosote boards knee-deep in the bluegrass.
They look so beautifully abandoned, even in use.
You say they look like arks after the sea’s
dried up, I say they look like pirate ships,
and I think of that walk in the valley where
J said, You don’t believe in God? And I said,
No. I believe in this connection we all have
to nature, to each other, to the universe.
And she said, Yeah, God. And how we stood there,
low beasts among the white oaks, Spanish moss,
and spider webs, obsidian shards stuck in our pockets,
woodpecker flurry, and I refused to call it so.
So instead, we looked up at the unruly sky,
its clouds in simple animal shapes we could name
though we knew they were really just clouds—
disorderly, and marvelous, and ours.
“dinosaurs in the hood”
Let’s make a movie called Dinosaurs in the Hood.
Jurassic Park meets Friday meets The Pursuit of Happyness.
There should be a scene where a little black boy is playing
with a toy dinosaur on the bus, then looks out the window
& sees the T. Rex, because there has to be a T. Rex.
Don’t let Tarantino direct this. In his version, the boy plays
with a gun, the metaphor: black boys toy with their own lives,
the foreshadow to his end, the spitting image of his father.
Fuck that, the kid has a plastic Brontosaurus or Triceratops
& this is his proof of magic or God or Santa. I want a scene
where a cop car gets pooped on by a pterodactyl, a scene
where the corner store turns into a battle ground. Don’t let
the Wayans brothers in this movie. I don’t want any racist shit
about Asian people or overused Latino stereotypes.
This movie is about a neighborhood of royal folks —
children of slaves & immigrants & addicts & exiles — saving their town
from real-ass dinosaurs. I don’t want some cheesy yet progressive
Hmong sexy hot dude hero with a funny yet strong commanding
black girl buddy-cop film. This is not a vehicle for Will Smith
& Sofia Vergara. I want grandmas on the front porch taking out raptors
with guns they hid in walls & under mattresses. I want those little spitty,
screamy dinosaurs. I want Cicely Tyson to make a speech, maybe two.
I want Viola Davis to save the city in the last scene with a black fist afro pick
through the last dinosaur’s long, cold-blood neck. But this can’t be
a black movie. This can’t be a black movie. This movie can’t be dismissed
because of its cast or its audience. This movie can’t be a metaphor
for black people & extinction. This movie can’t be about race.
This movie can’t be about black pain or cause black people pain.
This movie can’t be about a long history of having a long history with hurt.
This movie can’t be about race. Nobody can say nigga in this movie
who can’t say it to my face in public. No chicken jokes in this movie.
No bullets in the heroes. & no one kills the black boy. & no one kills
the black boy. & no one kills the black boy. Besides, the only reason
I want to make this is for that first scene anyway: the little black boy
on the bus with a toy dinosaur, his eyes wide & endless
his dreams possible, pulsing, & right there.
thoughts of the group (15 min)
how do we experience images as readers?
How do the poets use imagery as a point of entry into the poem? How do the imagery and figurative language work together, so we may experience the poem?
Consider the power and perils of naming, and how this impulse is both empowering and reductive. Consider how these poems are like ars poetica in their concerns with the making of art and poetry itself, and examining what self-expression is; what poetry can and/or can’t do.
As we go around (following the list of names as if we are in a circle together), briefly share what you find interesting between these poems and what images engage you the most. Introduce yourself with your name and just a quick note on what stands out to you (similarities and/or differences).
Write: Building an image
part 1: automatic writing (5 min)
Drafting a poem is a process of discovery, one with more exploration than explanation. This is why the stream-of-consciousness style of free-writing plays a significant role in stretching our writing muscles.
- Choose an abstraction or emotion. How would you describe this feeling or concept? Allow your mind to make any connections it likes.
- Free-write a description of your abstraction for 5 minutes. Don’t worry about “creating a poem,” just keep writing, keep exploring.
Abstractions: Love, Memory, Poetry, Time, Silencing, Connection.
Emotions: Affection, Anger, Angst, Anxiety, Awe, Curiosity, Boredom, Depression, Despair, Disappointment, Disgust, Ecstasy, Embarrassment, Envy, Euphoria, Fear, Frustration, Gratitude, Grief, Guilt, Happiness, Hope, Hostility, Interest, Jealousy, Loathing, Loneliness, Love, Lust.
“to allow for wonder:” an interview w/ amorak huey
Re: What the poet means vs What the poem is about.
“I want to be clear that asking this question does not mean that the answer always has to be clear or obvious or explicit within the text. You have to allow for wonder, for uncertainty, for that moment in the text that is just as surprising for the poet as for the reader, to paraphrase Robert Frost. What a joy, right, to think one is writing about something only to realize later that it was about something else entirely.”
Write: Building an image
part 2: voice + vision (1-2 min)
Remember, drafting a poem is a process of discovery, one with more exploration than explanation. Keep stretching those writing muscles.
Look back at your free-write, and notice the nouns and images.
- Generate a list, an image-inventory, of your nouns and images.
- Choose one image+concept (or a cluster) to focus and expand.
Write: Building an image
Part 3: Sensory details (7 min)
Describe: Using sensory details (physical evidence), expand that image. What can you see, touch, taste, smell, hear? Is there movement? What is the quality of light?
- Looks like
- Sounds like
- Feels like (tactile)
- Smells like
- Tastes like
If you have trouble “getting into the image,” try repeating: “I remember”
*Challenge: try switching around the senses to play with the language.
Share: writing together
craft: line + breath (10 min)
As you move from your free-writes to more crafted language, consider the breath. What can you say in a short breath? What can you say in a long breath? Where do you want the reader to pause, and linger?
- Create a 5-line poem, where each line (unit of attention) contains at least one descriptive quality from you image or sensory inventories.
- Type your 5 lines into the chat to share, and we will read as a whole.
“homework” : Curiosities + Questions for Revision
- What do you notice about the rhythm of the poem?
- Is anything in the poem repeated – either full words or sounds? How does that affect you as a reader/listener?
- How does this poem engage the five senses – smell, touch, taste, sight, hearing?
- Are there any places to add specificity to an image? Apprehend it through the 5 senses?
- Does the tone or feeling of the poem change or remain the same throughout?
- To whom is the speaker in this poem speaking? Why?
- What line would you say is the “heart” of this poem?
- How does the point of view (first person, second person, third person) in the poem affect you as the reader/listener?
- What do you notice about the physical structure of the poem – how it looks on the page? How does that match or create tension with the content of the poem?
- How is information organized? What do we learn in each line, each stanza?
- Are there any places where you get stuck or lost in the poem? Can anyone in the group unpack/illuminate those places?
- What kind of work are the verbs doing in this poem?
- What role do objects play in this poem, if any?
- What questions can you imagine this poem answering?