The Image

It’s a blizzard here in Colorado, so what better way to spend a snow day than writing about poetry.

I posted my thoughts about teaching poetry and the various methods of poetics a couple days ago. As I was looking through the Harriet blog this morning (hey I was up and ready for school, really), I came across Don Share’s post about wishing birthday wishes on Imagism. He included a link to Ezra Pound’s essay “A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste.” I thought back to my previous post and chuckled to myself, because in introducing poetry, I always talk about the image. To quote many a poet smarter and more accomplished than me:

The image is the backbone of the poem.

I teach this because high school students are wonderful, emotional blurters. They blurt.  They’re good at it. They have all these emotions and persecutions and rants and revelations and they blurt it out in short lines and F words.  So from the get go, with the help of Haiku (the poem, not the Wonder Dog), we talk about being a s concrete as possible in the image. So you can imagine my excitement when, sitting here on a snow day, I come across so more imagistic information.

Pound defines the image as an “intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time.” Pound uses complex as a noun, making this idea, well, complex (especially for new students of poetry). The Oxford American dictionary defines complex (as it applies here) as:

  1. a group or system of different things that are linked in a close or complicated way; a network
  2. Psychoanalysis–a related group of emotionally significant ideas that are completely or partly repressed and that cause psychic conflict leading to abnormal mental states of behavior.

Pound even states that he sides with the psychological meaning of the word. Hmm. No wonder poets have issues. But I digress.

So with a strong image, we get something that appeals to both the intellect and the emotion simultaneously. Ironically, the stereotypical 5 senses don’t work their way into Pound’s ideology. Again, more complexity (so I’m not bound to imagry when I’m creating an image?  Well, sort of yes, not really no. Get it? Poetry is fun!!).  But Pound does provide some insight to create strong images rather than blurts. Let me summarize his points (Many of these are aphorisms for writing in general, which can suggest the importance of imagism in general):

  1. Don’t use adjectives unless they add meaning (I would add don’t use adverbs at all)
  2. Choose concrete over philosophy/deep thought/abstraction because the object itself is the best symbol (Pound uses the word “adequate.”)
  3. Abstraction is for prose, so fear it like a Ring Wraith. Or Darth Vader. Or your English teacher.
  4. Be original (Pound says that what critics hate today, the public will hate tomorrow. There’s a lot of hoopla about the negative review, which could suggest that every critic hates some form of poetry, suggesting that Pound was some poetical prophet)
  5. Music is the most difficult of the arts (I read this on a blog not too long ago…but I can’t remember who wrote it). Pound says never think that poetry is easier than music.
  6. Read. Read. Read. And be influenced.
  7. After reading under the influence, be original.
  8. “Use either no ornament or good ornament.”

The essay goes on to discuss rhythm and rhyme and music. It can be summed up by saying that an image should sound natural, be musical (not necessarily metrical), don’t rely on metaphor to explain everything, and only choose words that matter.

The best way to practice creative images is through haiku. It forces students to not get blurty, pruposefuly avoid wanna-be-zen-wise-guy, and create succinct images. What better way to end a discussion on image than to leave you with a haiku:

morning blizzard
sketching on treetops and roofs
an erased shadow


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