Yesterday I made the successful transition into school mode. I finished reading a bunch of definitions about imagery and metaphor and started digging into the first selection of poets I’ve elected to read this go-round.
I encountered a certain level of frustration because I’m not reading concept texts like I was last term. This time all I have to go on is a dictionary of terms and a huge collection of poems/poets to choose from. That’s a pretty wide net. It’s narrowed a little bit because my mentor wants me to focus on image, metaphor, and line.
That makes complete sense to me because image is apparently the thing I struggle with the most. My first residency I had a lot of feedback about my poems being too abstract. I needed to add more concrete detail and images to make the reader see what I am trying to say. I was unable to do a deep dive into trying to fix that because it wasn’t what I was focusing on learning about. At that time, I needed to really just start at the beginning and get a good foothold on some overarching terms and concepts and also the role that history has had in shaping the life of poetry. So that semester I never really got down deep in the weeds with imagery. This semester I can.
Incidentally this residency I had a lot of similar feedback about needing more images and details. It’s tough, my brain likes to think about the abstract. I’m all about the big picture and sometimes I find the details to be just fluff. Something you have to get past to get to what’s really interesting. I need to recognize that it’s not really about me, when it comes to writing a successful poem (as if one could define such a thing). It’s more about being able to connect with the audience, the reader, and have them feel what you are feeling or what you want them to feel. That’s presents some amount of complication because everyone may have a slightly different experience and therefore there is no one universal thing/noun/image that will work.
For example, If the goal is conveying heartbreak, my gut instinct is just come out and say that or even perhaps to wind around a bunch of abstract things that indirectly say it hoping that the reader infers what I want them to inver. Finding an image that conveys heartbreak and elicits specific thoughts about heartbreak is what I’m learning will be more effective? The part that I find myself getting stuck on is selecting exactly what images to use. What does heartbreak look like? Does it look like green broken bottle glass on the side of the highway? Does it look like crisp dried brown roses in a vase, emptied of water for weeks and years? Does it look like the reflection of an unused toothbrush in a bathroom mirror?
I’m not sure because the answer depends on the experiences of the reader. That makes the answer very subjective. Last term I worked considerably on a poem I had reviewed during workshop at my first residency. I’ve written about this once before. It was originally a piece inspired by the struggle of navigating through failed relationships. It had the natural musicality and rhythm I often gravitate toward because I’m attracted most to the way things sound. It was completely full of abstract ideas and almost void of actual “things” and truly never really came out and said what it was about – just danced around it. In the workshop session one of the facilitators zeroed in on the first stanza and the whole discussion of that poem became about that, which was the subject itself.
I reworked the poem after that and basically completely rewrote the entire thing focusing on the actual subject. I attempted to take a specific instance in my history that illustrated my point — the act of attempting to keep your heart open, starting again after another failure. The moment I tried to capture/utilize was the act of seeing the other persons toothbrush in the toothbrush holder and having to throw that away. It’s an experience I had recently had after having thrown away a toothbrush of a person I dated for almost six months. Exhausted of starting over, I looked at the toothbrush and in finding no other use for it, tossed it away.
As I stated, I’ve journaled about this once before and in my history of blogging I have had very little feedback from anyone I know about what I am writing. I wrote about this poem and had a woman I have never met, a mutual friend of Joshua, reach out to me saying that she liked reading my blog and that it helped her and how that specific poem, about the toothbrush, is something she could relate to. That occurrence validated that I was on the right track. This was essentially a stranger who I had connected with through our common feelings. It made me feel as if I had successfully accomplished the task I set out to accomplish. My challenge this semester is to dig really deep to understand more about image and how to utilize all the tools at my disposal to achieve more.
So I’m deep in the weeds now. It’s Saturday and I basically have the entire day open to explore all the new ideas that are coming to me as I am reading through poems by Louise Glück, Natalie Diez, and Yusef Komunyakaa. I don’t yet have enough to begin writing an actual critical essay on a specific topic that has to do with image or metaphor, but we’ll see if inspiration strikes as I wind my way through. What does that look like?..
You are wandering along a familiar paved trail —
a crisp breeze introduces you to the scent of newborn sage
and the sky is clearly pleased with being witness to that.
You discover an unexpected box on the side of the path
and when you open it, you find the thing you want most from life.
Yeah, it’s just like that.
Hopeful Heart Open,