Monday, April 30, 2012

(What is Necessary) Image Above All

I think I might have mentioned earlier my feelings about form--not dismissal which seems too brutal and foolish, but perhaps thinking of it as of secondary importance. Even as I write that, I realize what a firestorm of disagreement and repudiation I might unleash. And it's all because I learned how to write when free verse still felt new and subversive. Let me begin again. Point one of my personal manifesto.

When I teach poetry, whether literature class or workshop, the first thing I discuss is image. Image as setting, image as tone, image as the referent of emotion. Image which allows the reader to put his or her finger into the physical world of the poem, understanding what is true because he or she knows this is how sunlight really does feel on skin. Image establishing a world and an authority.

Stark image--standing in for. A chair in the poem that we can sit on. Complex image which feels wonderfully apt at first encounter and then keeps unfolding, accruing meaning, suggesting more the longer we consider. 

I was having a little facebook conversation about this with someone late last week, trying to enumerate the examples I might use--Bishop, Plath. That fork poem by Simic. And then this morning I opened a book of poems by Tomas Transtromer, Windows and Stones. I was struck dumb with admiration in the second poem:
"Now my letter is with the censor . . . . / my words leap like apes onto a grating/ shake it, go stiff, and bare their teeth." (from "To Friends Behind a Border")

How else to inhabit the world if not through the senses?

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