Chapter 5: Imagery and its limitations
We have discussed in previous chapters, the nature and importance of imagery in poetry, and especially from the above experiment concerning originality, we are prone to being convinced of an infinite nature in one's creative possibilities, yet by common sense, we know that we all produce different imagery, differing in style, differing in quality, differing in the words we choose and the correlations we construct.
We will now look at the reasons and forces working behind the creation of imagery, and where the limits lie, and what constraints work against the writer's creative process.
5-1: Experience and Imagination
To begin our discussion, let us ponder what effect experience (or inexperience) of a subject matter has in our creative process.
First off, we will look at the opinions of deviantArt writers vis-a-vis the question, "is it possible to create imagery outside of one's physical and/or emotional experience?"
First there are those who agree. "Absolutely... Science Fiction. Fantasy. Romance novels. Crime stories. War stories. Westerns. Pulp fiction. As writers, we are only limited by our imagination. If we can imagine it and have the ability to put the right words in the right order, we can do anything."
Another writer: "Yes. It's possible to use other people's experiences to create imagery, and it's possible to use your imagination to create imagery." And then another: "Yes. Homer never actually went on an epic adventure battling various monsters, but that had no bearing on his works."
And then there are those who disagree: "No, but think how wide your physical and emotional experiences are. If your own life is fairly dull, void of any intense emotion, then there's still a world full of people you can empathise with, whose emotions you can understand.."
And another: "Most, if not all, writing stems from personal experience in some manner, therefore all imagery would stem from personal experience." And another: "they say "write what you know." but...it is not possible to create imagery without experiencing something first."
We have found from our questioning that there seems to be an evenly split contigent of writers who believe that everything one writes comes one way or another from experience (not necessarily direct personal experience, but emotional and mental experiences as well), and those who beleive that there is a realm that transcends any past experiences, which they labeled as "imagination."
We are therefore faced with the question, "what is experience?", and "what is imagination?" and asked writers if they find there to be an actual difference between imagery based on experience and imagery based on imagination.
One answer we have received, is with a good writer, there is no boundary between the two. "You wouldn't be able to tell the difference between imagination and experience in a good poem." says a writer. "For a real artist, there is no difference between experience and imagination." says another. Another states "The difference exists in the talent of the writer. A brilliant writer can write something that they never experienced exactly as if they had experienced it." Many others have stated that imagery based on experience and imagination have no differences in the imagery it is able to produce. (We assume that the images being talked about here, are strictly confined to experiences that are physically possible; no skilled writer, not even Homer, can convince the reader that they actually experienced battles with monsters.)
We asked further, if it was possible to distinguish if the authour had actually experienced what he or she had written, and 100% of the replies we received said in one way or another, "no, if the writer is skilled, the reader cannot distinguish between the two." One writer states "It's all dependent on the skill of the writer. Their talents of imagination, as well as their talents as a storyteller, and essentially everything that makes them a good writer come into play here." Another states "That depends on the skill of the author, and whether or not the reader is willing to meet the artist half way and see through his/her lens instead of dismissing the work as false or invalid. The captured experience might not always match up with what the reader expected (especially if it differs from the reader's personal experience) but one of the functions of art and poetry is to show things from a different angle and expose a new facet that may have been overlooked."
On the flip-side, according to these views, if the writer is not skilled enough, there will be a conspicuous difference in the end product.
The important thing we can derive here, is that because - with skill - experience-based imagery and imagination-based imagery can be indistinguishably similar, we can conclude that in essence, there is no significant necessity to adhere to one or the other. If they can be the same, debates on whether one must write from experience, or if one must use their imagination outside of their experience become something based on subjective preferences.
Another important observation is that there seems to exist a difference between these two types of imagery source when the writer is NOT skilled enough to make the two inseperable.
A writer states "Imagery based on experience is going to be entirely more real. I can imagine a scene of a serial killing without having killed anyone. I can imagine a war scene without having been to war. However, if I was a serial killer or veteran, what I write would be more bone-chilling because of the details. It's when you add a piece of yourself from your own experience does the story/poem have that much more impact." Another writes "Generally if you write what you know, you will be able to elaborate on that image more, because you have experienced it. Writing about the smell of a rose will be easier than writing about the feeling of standing on the edge of a volcano if you've never experienced the latter." In other words, "Imagery based on imagination is more abstract, and maybe less flexible into the ways of understanding than the experience imagery. It is less accessible for the reader to relate as well, but it can be more interesting since it is showing a new perspective on something to the reader."
Another summarizes thus: "A writer can transform an experience using his/her imagination but the actual experience still provides the roots for his/her work. Creating imagery from experience limits the writer to WHAT IS TRUE FOR HIM/HER. The desire to remain true to WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED obligates the poet to strive more for accuracy. Creating imagery from imagination means working from a place that is seemingly boundless. The writer is free to play with imagery. The main downside to creating imagery from experience is the fact that "reality" isn't always as pleasant as we'd like it. But being grounded in what is true for many may enhance the audiences reading experience or, like a proverb, help to ram a point home. On the other hand, creating imagery from the imagination may cause poets to stray too far from reality, frustrating readers by seeming too frivolous. But, the use of the imagination can also add to that spirit of transcendence."
With slight variations, a general consensus is reached, where writing from experience can make imagery more "real" or "tangible" or "vivid".
How true is this?
Taking an extreme example, assuming you've never been to a scene of childbirth, and you want to write about the moment you are born, from the newborn's perspective. Would it be more vivid to write from imagination, or would you be able to feed off your actual experience from when you were born?
The question here is, how real is experience? Does it scientifically have any differences from "imagination"?
We shall delve back into the realm of cognitive psychology to find the answer.
An important factor in discussing the nature of one's experience, is memory. When we write from experience, we usually do not describe what we are currently experiencing, but we are recalling from our memory of experiences that we've had in the past. Memory, in cognitive science has many categories, from the conscious to unconscious, to the short-term and long-term, but what we need to focus on at the moment is what is called "episodic memory", which "is memory for experienced events and episodes, such as a conversation this morning or the death of a friend eight years ago." (as opposed to "procedural memory": remembering how to write, or "semantic memory": remembering a fact such as one's birthdate.) Although "we would like to believe that our cherished memories of childhood and other periods in our life are faithful renditions of the past...several case studies and many experiments show that memories—even when held with confidence—can be quite erroneous." For example, psychologist Jean Piaget points out that a "frequent retelling of the original story over the years" could eventually root a scene into one's memory as an actual event." The reconstructive theory of long-term memory states that "rather than containing an exact and detailed record of our past ... our memories are instead more generic." Piaget claims that "people develop schemas (conceptual models) by either assimilating or accommodating new information... fitting information in to existing schemas, and altering existing schemas in order to accommodate new information." Psychologist Frederic Bartlett goes further, stating that "people will sometimes remove or omit details of an experience from memory if they do not fit well with the schema...[and] similarly, people may confidently remember details that did not actually occur because they are consistent with the schema." In addition the human mind may "tend to make inferences and assumptions that go beyond the literal information given."
On the other hand "imagination" as a psychological term refers to the "process of reviving in the mind percepts of objects formerly given in sense perception." It differs from pure experience where it may "[form] in the mind new images which have not been previously experienced, or at least only partially or in different combinations (e.g. Homer's monsters) ...and in this sense [imagination is] not being limited to the acquisition of exact knowledge," yet imagination does hold certain limits, where it relies (although in fragments) on the various perceptive experiences that an individual acquires through sense stimulation.
Where experience holds the possibility of distortion and extraneous imaginations from external inferences, and where imagination is to a degree constrained to one's perceptual experiences, these two elements (imagination and experience) - although different - share a common ground.
Therefore to return to our primary question "is it possible to create imagery outside of one's physical and/or emotional experience?" , we can conclude with both a yes and no. No - because even "imagination" is bound to one's experience, in a way. And yes - because even "experience" allows room for distorted truth. We can also conclude that the limits to the imagery we produce depend on a number of things; most notably the breadth of our preceptual experience, and the level of unconscious inflation in what we consider to be real experiences.
We come now to a still fairly controversial topic of sexual identity in poetry. In other words, "are there inherent differences in the imagery produced by men and women?" and furthermore, "can those differences be overcome or are some imageries exclusively masculine or feminine?"
Let us look at several voices of writers across deviantArt.
- "Inherently I do not believe that sexuality affects the writer unless the social mores and morals prevent areas of knowledge from one sex to the other along with the abillity to talk about the area with each other. For example: a man who never talks to women about their menstrual cycle might only have basic anatomical data, a hodgepodge of stand-up comedian jokes regarding PMS and maybe a few snippets overheard here and there to draw on for use when creating a character who is in the middle of her period. Chances are that this area will be glossed over for lack of intimate or even detailed third-party information regarding it and therefore realism will suffer via the ignorance. This has nothing to do with root gender but everything to do with socially imposed gender roles. More important to the quality of a writer's work are: does the writer have empathy?, does the writer have imagination?, and does the writer have rhythm? Empathy creates 'real' characters. Imagination gives them dimension, rythm keeps the reader from becoming exhausted."
- "I don't think there are images that are exclusively masculine or feminine. I think there are stereotypes that might be automatically associated with either, but there are always exceptions to social perceptions like that - and I think the key element is that the imagery favoured by a person comes from their perception of the world, which would be influenced by social opinion to differing degrees. Consequently, whether they conform to the stereotype depends on a) what is socially recognised as masculine or feminine and b) how much it influences the writer's mind."
- "It sometimes gives an image a certain type of validity. A woman can talk about wearing a bra with much more authority than a man. Both may still talk about bras. But then take the image set beyond things that can be engendered, like benches or buildings, roads - the differences may decrease. These things may be written different based on gender, but more likely in reflection than description."
- "Of course there are differences in the way men and women experience the world. In the realm of sex/love/motherhood/fatherhood one may argue that there are invisible, natural differences that the other gender cannot always/completely touch. In everyday life men and women are socialized into different roles and that undeniably shapes how each sees the world and sees the other. But in some cases e.g. ethnic/religious solidarity, common concerns/battles/beliefs supercede gender issues and allow men and women to relate to each other as just human beings. Some scenes, beauties and tragedies, are gender neutral. Sexuality does not always come into play when a writer produces imagery. In my own work I write from the female perspective much of the time but I don't think that my imagery is exclusively feminine. Again, empathic projection can be used to overcome issues of gender. A male can incorporate the idea/image of gestation even if he has never been pregnant because it is part of the overall natural/human experience. Imagery itself is not exclusive it just depends on whose perspective it is coming from."
- "I think that there are differences between the perceptions of men and women. I think that its just then nature of the genders. I think on some level writers are writers, but the small things are affected by gender."
- "I think everything that happens to every individual forces their exact imagery to be different since they are coming from a different paradigm. So, it's more like images pulled apart by individuals than gender."
- "Gender is nearly completely a social construct. It is not impossible for a man to use imagery that would be "feminine" nor a woman use "masculine" imagery. It's interesting to try and sexualize your poetry or writing, but nothing has to be necessarily one gender or another. Imagery gets defined more by the reader, so their own expectations will take hold - it's easily possible that they will react to a female name (or pseudonym) differently than a male one. However, there is no clear border, outside of the reader's impressions, about what is female or male."
Perhaps because the social differences between men and women have decreased in many First World nations, the differences arising from male and female writers have decreased proportionately. Therefore perhaps, it is not as large of an issue than it would have been for example, compared to the peak eras of Feminist movements. Nevertheless, poetry has been, historically, male-dominated until very recently, and as a fact result, many now-prominent female poets have consciously strived to be "iconoclastic" towards male tradition, especially traditional syntax, theme and poetic structure, as seen H.D's retelling of "Helen of Troy" or "Emily Dickinson's irregular punctuations."
Elizabeth Bishop's "In the Waiting Room" - www.poets.org/poems/poems.cfm?… is one such poem dealing with femininity. Critic Betsy Erkkila describes this poem as follows: "On the broadest level, "In the Waiting Room," like other Bishop poems, inscribes the terrifying instability of the "I" and individual identity as the traditional bounds between inside and outside, self and world collapse into mere boundlessness and flux: "Why should I be my aunt, / or me, or anyone?," the child asks, as the waiting room begins "sliding / beneath a big black, wave, / another and another." But the poem also registers the girlchild's terror and resistance as she experiences her identification with other women as a fall into the oppression and constraints of gender – signified by her "foolish aunt" and "those awful hanging breasts" she sees in the National Geographic as she reads and waits in the dentist's office. In words [...] the child's terror registers Bishop's own desire for distinction and difference and her simultaneous fear of having her historically specific "I" lost and absorbed in the sexual identity she shared with other women." Critic Lee Edelman delves further: "There is no inside in this poem that can be distinguished from its outside: the cry emanates from inside the dentist's office, and from inside the waiting room, and from inside the National Geographic, and from inside "In the Waiting Room." It is a cry that cries out against any attempt to clarify its confusions because it is a female cry - cry of the female - that recognizes the attempts to clarify it as attempts to put it in its place. It is an "oh!" that refuses to be readily deciphered because it knows that if it is read it must always be read as a cipher - as a zero, a void, or a figure in some predetermined social text."
Here are some other poems for further reading.
Gwendolyn Brooks: The Mother www.poets.org/poems/poems.cfm?…
H.D. : At Baia www.poets.org/poems/poems.cfm?…
Anne Bradstreet: The Author to her Book www.poets.org/poems/poems.cfm?…
Maya Angelou: Still I Rise www.poets.org/poems/poems.cfm?…
Margaret Atwood: Helen of Troy does Countertop Dancing www.poets.org/poems/poems.cfm?…
5-3: Skill and Abstraction
Another point that has been stressed a number of times was the possible downfall of "imagery", in that wheras skillful employment of imagery can contribute extensively to the quality of a poem, a weakness in "imagery" can in turn, cause a poem to fall apart miserably. According to this view "a poem inundated with imagery is [not] necessarily better than one that is not: a poem needs to have several things working in conjunction. Imagery is a means to an end, a tool; films just filled with special effects, even if they're great special effects, are not emotionally fulfilling, or generally worth watching. One needs to find, as with most creative processes, a perfect compromise between several techniques and effects." A writer adds "when a writer wants to create a memorable experience both unique and consuming - images will usually be their first tool. When weak, it is a crutch to hide that a writer has nothing to say."
It should be noted though, that there were wide variances in preferences among writers, between writing in abstract imagery, and writing in concrete imagery (as demarcated by Allan Paivio's dual coding theory aforementioned). As a writer mentioned, "some poems may not need imagery to convey their meaning as much as others." For example, compare these two poems both written by Ezra Pound, and see how the balance between concrete and abstract can drastically shift one way or another, even between different pieces written by the same authour.
Alba by Ezra Pound: www.internal.org/view_poem.pht…
Hugh Selwyn Mauberley by Ezra Pound: www.poets.org/poems/poems.cfm?…
Upon writing his famous (and short) piece "In the Station of the Metro", Pound reflects, "Three years ago in Paris I got out of a "metro" train at La Concorde, and saw suddenly a beautiful face, and then another and another, and then a beautiful child's face, and then another beautiful woman, and I tried all that day to find words for what this had meant to me, and I could not find any words that seemed to me worthy, or as lovely as that sudden emotion...I wrote a thirty-line poem, and destroyed it because it was what we call work "of second intensity." Six months later I made a poem half that length; a year later I made the following...
"The apparition of these faces in the crowd: Petals, on a wet, black bough."
I dare say it is meaningless unless one has drifted into a certain vein of thought. With a poem of this sort one is trying to record the precise instant when a thing outward and objective transforms itself, or darts into a thing inward and subjective."
This is a good example of how the piece (and the rhetoric aspect of it) dictates the method of deliverance, and by extenstion, the character of "imagery" involved.
We can therefore state that in addition to "experience" and "imagination" and "sexuality" the "writer's skill" also sets a limit in the imagery produced. In addition, the theme of a poem may limit the clarity/abstractness of a poem, and the level of abstractness in turn may limit the comprehension of the reader.
5-4: Reader Comprehension
In this section, let us examine how much of the imagery the writer imagines is actually conveyed to the reader, and what elements work against an accurate conveyance of imageries. We have collaborated with the deviantArt literary showcase suture to examine the differences between the interpretations by the writer, and the reader through interviewing both sides. We have interviewed kaujot for the reader of carissima82's Maggie Faked Springtime, and vivus as a reader for etoilerose's An Age is Closing Now. This experiment was based partly on another experiment that took place at Cambridge University under the lead of I.A. Richards (of whom we have mentioned in Chapter 2) who has collected the critiques of students, scholars and poets (some of them established, but unnamed) on several different poems (of which title and author were concealed), revealing discrepencies in many areas between the intent of the poem and its interpretation.
On An Age is Closing Now
Poeticks: To start off, what is this poem about?
Etoilerose: It is about the life of the poet Marianne Moore. The title refers to her entire life, the closing of an era. She's speaking to the reader the entire time, reminiscing her life. So when she says "remember" the reader doesn't actually have to remember.
P: What does the first stanza represent?
E: The first stanza refers to her simple upbringing and also the days when she taught in the school for Indians in Carlisle, PA. It refers to a simpler time; the Carlisle school was meant to assimilate the Indians into eastern American culture, to give them culture if you will. She's talking about the freedom that the Native Americans used to have and the time of the Native American's freedom before things became developed, reservations were formed, etc. When writing this, I envisioned Moore in old age sitting on a rocking chair on a porch.
P: And what scenery did you have in mind when writing the first stanza?
E: The image for the field and meadows were inspired by the openness of America at the time of Moore's life. She was born in Missouri and worked her way further North and East throughout her life. I guess the images came from memory, television, pictures from my friends' vacations. What I was thinking of is dry, open fields: the midwest, where Native Americans were pushed after the Trail of Tears. Everything is brown, but not necessarily dead. It's a wheat type field. it's late summer, early fall.
P: Tell us about your choice of imagery in this stanza.
E: Time flying over oaks refers to the carefree youth of Native Americans. I think I chose oak because of where she lived throughout her life (Eastern US). She talks about the horse, running through a field. The running horse, again, is about the Native Americans and introduces the central image with the line "forgotten feathers." If you've ever seen (even on TV) a wild horse in nature, you'd have to agree that it's an amazing sight. The horse is chestnut ("chestnut flanks" flanks is the term for the muscles in the butt/thigh of a horse).
P: And the second stanza? What does "tame me" refer to?
E: Moore was often considered a bit eclectic, dressing up in costume to attend public events, etc. Moore is the "bird" in the poem. If you think about it (well this is my reasoning anyway), everyone at one point thinks of themselves as a bird, wanting to fly away. Moore wanted to "spread her wings" but she received criticism because she was different; those critics "plucked her quills" and created obstacles for her. She kept the quills so she could write her poetry, criticisms and prose.
P: Do you have a specific image for the "ink"?
E: The ink is dark black and thick. Although not necessary to the purpose of the poem, that's how I see it.
P: And what is the significance of the cephalopod? And "words meant only for me"?
E: A cephalopod is an octopus, an octopus inks for protection against enemies. Moore wrote a poem called "An Octopus" So there's a whammy of imagery there. Anyway, Moore never meant for her poetry to be published. A friend took some of her poetry and got it published, which is the meaning of "meant only for me."
P: And the rest of the stanza starting with "I'm a happy hack"?
E: In an interview, Moore described herself as a "happy hack." Those other lines are a summary of one of her poems. I think it's "Nevertheless" but I don't remember exactly.
P: The third stanza.
E: Moore moved around a lot, hence the "heavy winged movement" lines. Again, I sampled from her poetry and her themes. She believed in inner beauty and beauty in nature. She was a librarian for fun; "feathered pages keep my sanity." The rest of that stanza comes from a few of her poems. They were her personal beliefs.
P: And fourth stanza.
E: This stanza is about the way she wrote. Her poetry had rhythms all of their own. The last two lines of the stanzas are from another poem.
P: Is the poem influenced by Moore in content only, or also in terms of flow etc.?
E: Well this was an assignment for my AP English class. The assignment was to write about a poet and incorporate themes that the poet would use. We could not, however, try to emulate the poet in terms of writing style. We had to write in blank verse, which is unrhymed iambic pentameter.
P: And last the stanza.
E: Moore loved baseball. T.S. Eliot adored her (so did ee cummings). The time period of their adoration of Moore continued around the same time Mickey Mantle was playing baseball. Moore wore a tri-corn hat and that became her signature. A feather in someone's hat is (well was at one point) a symbol of honor. "They found a place for the genuine" is from her famous poem "Poetry."
P: There's a constant reference to feathers and birds in the poem, intentional? if so, any specific reason?
E: Very intentional. Moore always had a central image in her poetry, so I had a central image, which was feathers and birds, etc She was a writer, the whole writing with a quill, not to mention her obsession with nature.
Now we look at how the poem was received from the reader's point of view.
Poeticks: Tell us what "age" means to you.
Vivus: An era, a period of time. Marianne Moore's, her lifetime and her work.
P: What images did you receive from the first stanza?
V: With "oak" and "field", a quiet forest, sometime in late summer. It's a little chilly outside but the leaves haven't turned yet. From "dusty meadows" I get the image of wheat fields, for some reason. With the "horse" I only see the hooves: a close up shot of them galloping kicking up dust. The forgotten feathers are Moore's quieter, private triumphs.
P: Such as?
V: I don't now specifically, getting married? raising a family? Things other than her poetry that she takes pride in.
P: What does "others" refer to in the second stanza?
V: Literary critics and naysayers in general: other poets unsupportive of her work. The "quills" are her feathers: she took the negative aspects of her night and made it positive, made it into art. I imagine white feathers with black tips. They represent her triumphs.
P: The significance of the "cephalopod"?
V: She wrote a poem about an octopus, I think, if I recall. It's possible, if I am correct about her poem being about that, that its popularity kept her writing.
P: And the significance of Eliot and Mantle?
V: Eliot championed her. She loved baseball.
P: Do you feel this poem to be an ode?
V: Yes. It's an ode to Moore and her work
P: Do you feel it centers around a certain theme?
V: The central theme is Moore herself, and it's significant because this poem is about her. Oh, you meant what are the motifs? The overall image is one of feathers and it is significant because, as I've said, the feathers represent Moore's sucesses.
P: How do you imagine the speaker "me" as being while the lines are read?
V: "Me" is Moore herself; it's written in the first person. She's old, wise, thoughtful, reflecting. She's proud and wistfull; proud of her sucess, and wistfull because she is no longer living the height of it.
P: Do you see references/influences to Moore's style of writing in this poem?
V: I'm not familiar enough with it to make an accurate judgement on that. I know etoilerose used as many motifs and themes as she could from her work: the octopus thing, the baseball thing. She told me about it, but I have read some of Moore's work as well.
The minimum requirement needed to understand this poem, is to have sufficient knowledge of the life and works of Marianne Moore. In fact, the writer kindly provides in the "description" section of the deviation with an explanation: "It's about Marianne Moore" and as we see in the above two interviews, the poem's essence centres upon references towards these knowledge gained prior to the reading. The reader in this case has had talks with the writer concerning the poem, and has had experience reading Moore's works, but yet, it becomes hazy as to what extent any reader would understand the piece if they were not told at all that it was about Marianne Moore. And even if they were told, knowledge concerning the life of Moore is vital, and lacking in that capicity would surely take away portions of the full intricacies to be understood. We have looked at "experience", "imagination", "sexuality", "skill" and "abstraction", but now we may add another factor - knowledge - that may sway the full conveyance of a writer's intention.
We now look at the next piece,
On Maggie Faked Springtime
From the reader's point of view:
poeticks: Maggie: what does that name sound to you?
kaujot: A very down home kind of girl. Perhaps even a little boyish. Age 18-19 is what it feels like. Not necessarily beautiful. Most Maggie's that I have known are not.
poeticks: Describe the "perfume" you image?
kaujot: An exhalation of perfume, an overdose done in haste. Just trying to get out of the door. My mom did that tonight and smelled of potpourri. Perhaps one that's a little acrid. Whorish, even. A woman's perfume I think. Brownish.
poeticks: What image does "spring" give you?
kaujot: Faking an orgasm, as the title suggests. She's acting above her age. Let me retract my "18-19" age comment. I'd say 15 to 16. New insight and what not. She's 15 or 16 but acting like 18-19. Intercourse and what not.
poeticks: What do you make of "gums spew clear threads of fever"?
kaujot: Saliva, semen, and STDs. She tried to swallow but couldn't.
poeticks: And "his gums" represents?
kaujot: Eek. I forgot the "his" part. Sorry about that. Cunnilingus, but with the saliva and STDs part. He spit out her stuff. He is an older guy. Taking advantage of her. Middle-aged. She's a bit of a whore, after all
poeticks: "eyes rotating in careful degrees": what image do you get there?
kaujot: Looking down on her in disdain. Rotating vertically. Humid and hazel. Humid brings up an image of substance abuse. Drunk.
poeticks: What image do you have of Lent?
kaujot: Chastity broken. The vow of marriage broken, even. He's married, she's 16. Adultery.
poeticks: "fish-and-chips lip grease"?
kaujot: Gluttony. People often swear off fatty foods for Lent and break it.
poeticks: Maddox, what kind of image do you get from that name?
kaujot: I don't know anyone named Maddox. It's not necessarily an evil sounding name, so I'm neutral on the subject.
poeticks: "tongues the residue"
kaujot: Vagina juice.
poeticks: What image do you get from "shuffling"?
kaujot: Her body writhing back and forth like a snake's.
poeticks: From "he follows her home down puckered road" what kind of road do you imagine?
kaujot: A skinny, winding one; forlorn and desolate.Rural.
poeticks: "her vanity was leaking on the bus" means?
kaujot: A reference to her youth and maturity clashing, I think. I always thought of a school bus.The bus is her youth. Vanity is the heavy makeup, short clothes, that I imagine her wearing. "wet rivulets is orgasming. Woman juice. That sort of thing. It could be taken literally or figuratively. Maddox riding her youth along with her sex.
Now from the writer's side:
Poeticks: Let's start with the conceived imagery while writing the first lines "a short, sharp fit of perfume mocking spring". What kind of perfume did you have in mind?
Carissima82: A very thick, overpowering flowery-scented perfume for women. No particular brand, but i imagine it would be terribly cheap and yellowy in color. Maggie's scent, her perfume, is so potent, and obviously artifically botanical that it "mocks spring"; her smell is a cheap imitation, or reminder, of the season. As far as the physical nature of the spring, I imagined, a wet, fertile, late spring. When the ground is soft and the air smells like dirt and vegetation and sun. As Maggie "faked" springtime, it's insinuated that not only does she falsely smell like the season, but that she's past her adolescence and "disguising" herself as younger than she is. She wears tight clothing and make-up, so yes, it also references age.
P: What inspired you to name your characters?
C: Well, it's mostly a perversion of Magdalene, although I was also inspired by Stephen Crane's "Maggie: A Girl of the Streets." Maddox I chose partly because of it's meaning ("fortunate") and partly because I just liked the ring of it.
P: Do you view Maddox as being "fortunate"?
C: I'd say Maddox believes himself to be fortunate, or blessed. This detail is not necessarily critical to the poem, but i like it. Maddox is probably about 35, and Maggie 29 or 30.
P: Any particular reason?
C: I do see him as being more worldly than Maggie, not necessarily more sophisticated, but a little older. Maddox is unkempt, his clothes don't fit quite right, and he would have dark features. There are more references to Maggie's personal appearance: "leather blue-jeans sucked her thighs," "the clapping of mismatched heels," "Maggie's blue-steamed hair." She looks almost prostitute-ish, but she isn't one. Her heels aren't the same height, her hair is dyed. Maggie is overdone, sort of haphazardly artificial, but not wholly unattractive.
P: How about clothing and vocation?
C: As for clothing, Maddox is in dark jeans, dark shirt that's too big, too long. Everything he's wearing is sort of oily, grimy. He's navy blue and dirt. Maggie is in "leather-blue jeans" broken high heels, probably has a slouchy bag... I don't know. Oh, and fake nails. Maggie has a job. simple, minimum wage deal. I'm not sure that Maddox has a job. I honestly had not given their vocations much thought. I wasn't trying to define them by their work.
P: Tell us more about Maddox's character. For example, does he represent some more general idea?
C: Maddox is sort of deformed spiritually, or morally, or emotionally. He's sort of been crippled. But he doesn't represent some sort of great phallic evil. I really think he's a sad sort of character. Maggie is rather complicated. She represents many of my personal issues with femininity and gender.
P: What sort of issues? Would you consider this poem to be (or include a portion which is) feminist in nature?
C: I would not say that I am a feminist writer, but I am a feminist and feminism is a theme that crops up often in my writing. And I think this poem certainly has a flavor of that. And if not, it at least comments on gender to some extent. Maggie is a woman, obviously, but to Maddox she is both more and less than that. On the one hand he simplifies her to an object, a "girl" (although I doubt he understands the meaning of the term), an animated thing. And on the other he exaggerates her proportions and obsesses over her, deifies her. She is an "ocean" in which (or on which) he is lost. The term "man" is often equivalent to "human", but "woman" is certainly not intended to mean "man". I think it's almost rare to see women portrayed as only human. just human. Not embodiments of sex or walking art pieces or transcended goddesses. I think women are often either over-complicated or terribly simplified. They are so often sluts, virgins, mothers, spinsters, but not necessarily people. I think Maddox embodies this problem of misunderstanding what a woman is, more so than Maggie does. He is sort of the living dilemma and Maggie is actual, physical, breathing issue of feminity.
P: From the writer's viewpoint, do you empathize/sympathize with Maddox and/or Maggie, or are you critical or removed from holding an opinion concerning their characters?
C: I don't really sympathize or empathize with either of them. Not because I’m emotionally disconnected or because I don't think the characters deserve it. I don't think i can say that I understand their situation from an experiential point of view. So I'm disinclined to say that I sympathize or empathize with them. I'm not particularly critical of them either. I'm not condemning or celebrating either Maddox or Maggie. I'm not judging them. I care for them in the sense that I helped create them as they are. I have probably as many opinions and feelings about them as any reader could.
P: Okay, returning to the first lines, "fit" would mean?
C: "Fit" as in tantrum, a small, puerile outburst. It’s annoying, grating, and persistent.
P: Any reason why it doesn't start with a capital letter?
C: It's not important enough. I guess, it just wasn't necessary as far as I was concerned. Capitalization is a choice, I think, in creative writing. And it should be a very deliberate choice. I often capitalize names or places, proper nouns, but rarely do I begin sentences with capitalizes letters. It's personal preference, I suppose.
P: Moving on to "has his gums spew clear threads of fever and eyes rotating in careful / degrees, humid and hazel", does "clear threads of fever" represent something specific?
C: Certainly "clear threads of fever" is meant to be an image of saliva, but it also insinuates illness, "fever" being particularly reminiscent of mental illness. It represents fever both pathologically and emotionally. Maddox is both inwardly and outwardly "feverish". He can be considered "ill" on several levels. I could say, Maddox is ill because he obsessed with Maggie, and i could say Maddox is obsessed with Maggie because he is ill. I'm not sure which comes first. Why is Maddox ill? i think he ODed on catholicism.
P: Too pious, you mean?
C: I don't think he would say so, but to me, yes.
P: And how are those eyes?
C: Not a specific individual's eyes, but I had a type in mind. The type of eyes that stare at you a few moments too long. Eyes just a little too fixated, a little wide. The eyes rotate in "careful degrees" because they are following Maggie very closely. If she slouches in her seat, they rotate downwards. If she leans to the left, they rotate in that direction. Her movement, as slight as it may be, directs his eyes. They are humid as in wet, glassy, watering, but not crying. Maybe he's having an "allergic" reaction to "spring".
P: What is the significance of "Lent is here, fish-and-chips lip grease on his back pockets"?
C: Maddox is a greasy sort of character. He's shifty, unclean, disheveled. Almost a generic urban bus passenger in appearance.
P: When saying "Maddox tongues the residue while eyeing a shuffling Maggie" is the residue of "grease" or residue of saliva or something else external? Perhaps the scent of perfume? or the figure of Maggie?
C: Very good. All those things. makes me think his senses are almost reptilian.
We can see from these interviews, a definite rift between the imagery as understood by the reader and the writer. We can see similarities as in the "whorish" element of the main character, but many of the writers' intentions were interpreted differently. We can draw the reason for this from several points we have discussed. The first is abstraction. In fact the writer herself categorizes this piece as experimental. We can also see from the comments that this submission received that many readers are unsure, unable, or had a difficult time delving for the intended imagery. Secondly, the reader here drew his image of "Maggie" from his past encounters, while the writer drew her image largely from a classic novel. Both constitute "experiences", and this difference in experience between the reader and writer is another factor in producing the above differences. Although not necessarily evident through the interviews, the discussion we have had concerning "sexuality" may or may not have a part in aiding miscomprehensions, if the reader has a different perspective towards the issue of femininity and fails to understand or realize the viewpoint of the author.
Now, in concluding our compilation on imagery, we would like our fellow readers (who have read this far) to play an active role that transcends the mere perusal of the words presented to you, and reflect upon the matters that have been discussed. This concerns not only writers, but visual artist as well, for as artists we are all starting on the same foot.
a: First, for those who have endeavoured, been involved, succeeded or failed: reflect upon what you have written; read over our first two chapters and analyze your poems and the imagery they hold. With a better understanding of what the elusive term "imagery" means, and what it can do, you may be able to identify your stregths and weaknesses in details you have ignored before. Look over each of your poem, and circle (or italicize) the portions which you feel lacking.
b: Then, try improving your imagery. Work until those circled portions come to be something of satisfaction. Refer to chapter 4. You have no need to memorize poetic terminology, but with a further knowledge of the available tools (figure of speech), it may (although not an exclusive mean) prove to be a helpful guide to build upon your poetry. Then add your own colour in reference to our section on originality. Read published poetry, and come in contact with phrases and ways of expression you have never come in contact before. Let it be your inspiration to find words that "you" have created.
c: Move on to the poems of others and keep in mind the characteristics of imagery. You may now be able to identify which images are strong, and which are commonplace, which are clear and which are abstract. Mention them in your comments, mention them in your critiques. Start a dialogue between the writer and yourself to remove possible "miscomprehensions" we have seen in chapter 5; question the significance of the poem (as we have done in our interviews in chapter 5 to get a better understanding. When you have gained the intent of the writer, you may find yourself better equiped to analyze their poetry. Refer to inziladun's The Art of Commenting as well. Start a dialogue with the people who comment on your own work.
d: After building a steady understanding of your own and others' poetry, learn to question and debate what you have read throughout our compilation. Is "imagery" really what it has been described to be in chapter 1? Is it really necessary to have "imagery" in poetry (as mentioned in chapter 2)? Debate the necessity of figures of speech, the essence of "originality," and the sexual influences upon one's writings. Debate the miscomprehensions between reader and writer, debate the significance of abstract poetry and debate the importance (or lack thereof) of imagery in poetry. Do not end merely with a negation of the thoughts that have been included here; build your own and speak it. The primary objective of poeticks is more to inspire writers and artists by providing them with the means necessary to push themselves to a higher level of understanding, not just to present the thoughts of writers across deviantArt.
e: For prosists, try fitting this into the context of prose. Does "imagery" hold a whole new meaning in prose? What doesn't apply to prose, and what does? Let it help you to discover what "prose" is, by contrasting it with poetry. For visual artists, how does "imagery" affect your art? The section for figure of speech may not apply, but the notion of "imagery", "originality", "sexuality" and "viewer comprehension" are matters that can be easily brought into a visual art context. Think over what "imagery" means to your artwork.
f: Spread the word. The more people involved in positive improvement, the more it would enrichen the deviantArt community. In the end "you" are what makes the community. "You" are poeticks.
End Notes & Upcoming Projects
We started this compilation off by dividing chapters into individual steps in the writing process (imagery, flow, rhymes etc..), but while writing the first chapter on imagery, it kept on getting longer and longer. There was an astounding and oftentimes overwhelming number of issues to be elaborated upon, each holding its own importance, and in the end we had in our hands a colossal end product just on "imagery".
Since we have been working many hours on this since July (almost 6 months), we will be taking a (hopefully deserved) break before venturing onto a new topic for an elaborate compilation. We will try to keep your attention from time to time with short editorials in the meantime. Stay tuned.
A list of resources referenced for this compilation.
- "Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy" Edward Craig ed. Volume 4
- "Encyclopedia of Psychology" Oxford University Press 2000 Alan E. Kazdin ed.
- "Poetry: The Basics" Routledge 2004 Jeffrey Wainwright
- "Twentieth-century Literary Movements Dictionary" Omnigraphics 2000 Helen Henderson & Jay P. Pederson ed.
- "Practical Criticism" Routledge 1964 I.A. Richards
- Wikipedia Website (on various topics) www.wikipedia.org
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy "Mental Imagery" plato.stanford.edu/entries/men…
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy "Memory" plato.stanford.edu/entries/mem…
- "An Introduction to the Science and Philosophy of Mental Imagery" Nigel J.T. Thomas www.calstatela.edu/faculty/nth…
- Aristotle's "On the Soul" text: classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/sou…
- Figure of Speech humanities.byu.edu/rhetoric/Fi…
- Invention humanities.byu.edu/rhetoric/Ca…
- I.A. Richards www.lcc.gatech.edu/gallery/rhe…
- Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory & Criticism www.press.jhu.edu/books/hopkin…
- Amazon.com www.amazon.com
- e.e.cummings' grasshopper www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poet…
- Metaphors www.ul.ie/~philos/vol4/metapho…
- Online Etymology Dictionary www.etymonline.com/
- Metaphors www.lcc.gatech.edu/gallery/rhe…
- Bartleby (T.S. Eliot) www.bartleby.com/198/1.html
- Memory (Encarta) encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_7…
- On Imagery www.poetrymagic.co.uk/advanced…
- Cognitive Science plato.stanford.edu/entries/cog…
- Imagery www.uni.edu/~gotera/CraftOfPoe…
- Elizabeth Bishop www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poet…
- Ezra Pound www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poet…
Suture "Tips for a Novice" www.deviantart.com/deviation/5…
Futilitarian "Terms and Techniques" www.deviantart.com/deviation/8…
(Note: We may have missed some...we hope not.)
- And the the invaluable contributions from many many writers.
Here is the list of writers and artists who have given us their support, opinions, creativity in our "Poeticks on Angst" compilation and/or "Poeticks on Imagery" compilation in one way or another. We have delayed the disclosure of our contributors to keep a balance in terms of anonimity. On one hand, we feel the community has the right to know which writers have been willing to provide us with each of their valuable insights, especially to present the variety of writers involved amidst constant wariness over biased representation. On the other hand, we want to value each opinion with equal weight and want to avoid any opinions undergoing judgement because of the deviant, or any deviant undergoing judgment because of their opinions, and for this reason we chose to detach opinions with writers.
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and a very special thanks to
Jul '04 - Feb '05 (c) Poeticks