Small Group discussion

how do we experience images as readers?

  • How do poets use imagery as a “point of entry” into their poems? 
  • How do the images and the figurative language work together, so we may experience the poem?
  • How do these poems navigate the power and perils of naming? How is this impulse to name both empowering and reductive?
  • How are these poems like an ars poetica in their concerns with the making of art and poetry itself, and examining what self-expression is?

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

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.

Nickole Brown

“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 

  1. 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. 


ada limón

“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.


danez smith

“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.


roya marsh

“black joy”

(Video only).