Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Writing an Image Poem, Revisited

Okay, I told my students today that you just write the rough draft, and if it's bad, that's all right. At least you then know what not to do, and that is a direction.

Below are idea gathering questions from an earlier, more complete post on writing an image poem from a photograph. I've included my comments and my first draft. Your comments? Please by kind, be specific, and be helpful--to quote a fellow educator, Ron Berger (from An Ethic of Excellence).

Image/Experience Poem
  1. What is the subject you chose? What is unique about it? What jumps out at you and what is hiding in the background? What are your feelings about the picture? (A gull, wings outstretched, and the sea. The gull looks so powerful, even though wings are so frail. With its outspread wings, the gull looks like it is praising the world--a benediction.)
  2. Can you connect the subject matter of your topic to your life? Remember to consider more than one state of consciousness. Think of any possible experience you've had. Do you sleepwalk, dream in color? Have you traveled to a place like your image? (I know the sounds and smells of the ocean. The sense of space--even the quality of sound is different.)
  3. From your experience, what powerful sense words capture what you see? Extend your personal experience; for instance, extend your experience of hitting your thumb with a hammer to find words describing being in a rockslide. (The great sense of freedom I feel for the gull--three-dimensional freedom. The bird doesn't know its bones are hollow and can easily break. The stones are black, wet with the sea. The ocean is a maelstrom of waves, whites and aquas.)
  4. Continue with sound (or silence), and the other senses of taste, smell, and touch. Some may not clearly apply, and that is okay. (Brine, marine plants. That smell of the sea--what is it? Winds off the water--how would a bird experience them? Shifting, fluid. Like surfing or skydiving.
  5. Choose words to describe the mood or tone of your topic: describing a car as a junker or beater is not the same as worn out. (This is a completely natural image--no intrusion of mankind. Dynamic with the spread wings and surging waves--yet also a sense of eternal rhythms, of stability and predictability or known patterns and pursuits.)
  6. Animate the "snapshot." Find some specific action words. Does the car cruise around the corner, or does it screech around the corner? Make your words sing or dance, chant or fly. (Surge, swoop, the recurring rise, crash, and retreat of the waves. The wings extending, the feathers like fingers reaching.)
  7. What you have now is information, ideas, a starting place. Go from there and write something. Think of your poem as a snapshot, one frame of a movie, a painting, a window. Create! (Okay, Tom.)


With wings as wide as dusk is winding,
what gull can withstand the wyrd 
to leap the sky and love?

If wings should fail to wind the shifting wind,
and sea stones sing the surge of empty space--
then mind will suffice instead of wind,

and mists will gather above the waves.
Make haste. Night hazes the ocean with madness.
Old men speak in verse of albatross

and death, breath wheezing like the hiss
of sea foam and sand. Tides tilt seaward
and tumble to silent depths.

I realized upon going to bed last night, after having written this blog post, that the above draft isn't my first draft. The first draft was written on an old envelope as I was about town yesterday. Below is what was written on the envelope. When I typed the poem onto the post, I just naturally revised it.

With wings this wide
and dusk this wanton,
leap the sky and love.
And if wings fail the wind
and black stones sing like sisters--
then the mind will manage instead of wind.
Mists gather above the waves
and haze the dusk, dim and gull the vision.

Make haste. Night approaches
as silent as an albatross.
Old men speak in verse,
and tides tilt and tumble to the depths.

Copyright 2010 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved
Photo from an old National Geographic, already clipped from the magazine--sorry, NGS, for having no photographer credit.


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