A.S. Maulucci: Use imagery to make your poetry blossom

A.S. Maulucci

In its purest form, poetry would consist entirely of images. Nothing more than pictures are needed to evoke a mood or arouse an emotion. As the proverbial saying goes, “an image is worth a multitude of words.”

Let’s look at a few pertinent examples. Consider this exquisite haiku poem by Taniguchi Buson (1716-1784):

The short night is through:

on the hairy caterpillar,

little beads of dew.

Or this compact quatrain from Robert Frost’s “Dust of Snow”:

The way a crow

Shook down on me

The dust of snow

From a hemlock tree

For me, both of these poems encompass a world of tender feelings. I can see the glistening drops on the bushy back of a plump green caterpillar, and this visual picture summons up in me a host of sensations related to the dawn and early morning hours, the freshness in the air, the sense of the earth’s renewal, the radiant light of the rising sun, the wet leaves of the trees and grass and the evaporating mist. All of these impressions are contained in this simple image.

From Frost’s poetic picture I experience the deep silence of the winter woods, the smell of a conifer tree, the sound of ruffled feathers and the gentle sprinkling of snow flakes. The emotions implicit in this image are surprise, delight and the joy of connecting with nature.

Truly, I don’t need anything more than this to enjoy poetry. I don’t need any elaboration or embellishments, just as I don’t need any explanations or annotations to derive great pleasure from looking at a painting. What cannot be said in the strong verbal images of a poem may not be worth saying.

The American modernist master poet Ezra Pound (1885-1972) understood this concept quite well. In his search for a purer form of poetry, he created these two tiny gems, each a complete poem in itself:

“In the Station of the Metro”

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;

Petals on a wet, black bough.

“Alba”

As cool as the pale wet leaves of the lily-of-the-valley

She lay beside me in the dawn.

Are these poems not complete in themselves? What more do we need from them?

Images are the distilled essence of poetry. Another modern master, E.E. Cummings (1894-1962), wrote this marvel of concision and economy:

“L(a” l(a/le/af/fa/ll/s)/one/l/iness. Note the concrete image, “a leaf falls,” is encapsulated parenthetically within the abstraction “loneliness” — the word itself arranged by line breaks that emphasize the one-ness of loneliness. Here’s another example of my own inspired by Cummings’ model: “HE” he/art/(a/wo/man/le/a/ps)/br/e/ak. Do you see the stress placed on the image of a man who breaks a woman's heart and her consequent suicide expressed by the concrete image within the parentheses? The image held within the abstract concept creates the poem's tension and makes it complete.

If you’ve never used much imagery in your poetry, you can start by trying the above exercise. Contrasting the concrete and the abstract in a single stanza or alternating stanzas between a concrete image and an abstract idea can be very effective. Writing a poem with a single extended unifying image, the way Shakespeare does in many of his sonnets, is another technique you might want to try. Once you've introduced precise imagery into your poetry, the next step will be advancing to the incorporation of multiple images to give varied views of an idea.

The use of images is poetry in its purest form and shows us the true essence of poetry is imagery.

A. S. Maulucci is the author of “The Morning Light,” “All for Love,” “100 Love Sonnets,” “Dear Dante” and other books. You can read his poetry at www.greentigerproductions.com and his fiction at www.anthonymaulucci.com.