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November 26, 2014

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Main >> Library >> Articles

Imagery is Poetry
by Joe Lavigne
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Spend some time online and you will find poetry galore. Seems everybody is writing poetry. And if you're reading this then you probably do too, right? So in this swamped cyber world how do you get someone to remember your poetry. Simple, write good poetry. Seems simple but it isn't. So what makes a poem good and even memorable? Imagery is usually the key.

Don't believe me, then read your favorite poem and tell me why you like it. There are two main reasons people cite for preferring a certain poem over another:

  • They can sympathize with the poem (i.e. they've been there, done that, or are going through it now and know what you're feeling). Why do you think so many people like love poems? Because we've all been in love before and know its joy and pain.
  • Imagery is the second reason someone remembers a poem. A powerful image conjured up by a poem can stick in the mind for hours even days. And if you are truly lucky it will stick there for a lifetime. The impression an image creates also lasts a great deal longer than the first reason I mentioned.

Why? I'm not a psychologist, nor pretend to know how our minds work. But I think we all are primarily visual beings is why. Look around you- most of our judgments, memories, and even world are based upon the visual perceptions we take in. We base judgments about people and places on their look or atmosphere, etc. I could probably sit here and give numerous examples backing up my reasoning here, but that's not important.

What is important is that good poetry also makes a person visualize something in their mind's eye. And that's what poetry is all about -- making the reader experience new and interesting things from the poet's (hopefully) unique perspective on the world. What better way is there than making your readers look through your eyes? Telling them is never the same as showing them. Stopping telling your readers how you feel -- show them with images and mood. If you write I'm sure you've heard the phrase: "Show, don't tell."

Okay I've made my point, right? But now you ask how do you use imagery or improve your imagery. Well that's the million-dollar question isn't it? And let me say I'm no expert either. But the primary way to do this is to start using more metaphor and similes in your poetry. A metaphor is saying something is something else. And a simile is telling someone that one thing is like another.

For instance if you are writing a love poem about being hurt, don't just say "love sucks" (or hurts). Say something like "love is the sharpest thorn on the rose of life." Connect your ideas to images that will convey your point and make sure your meaning is fully conveyed. Sticking with the painful love poem idea, here's an example: "Love is a bucket." Say what? What does that have to do with love -- nothing. But with the proper backing almost any image can be tied to your point. Try "love is a dented bucket/ its waters tainted with the dirt/ you left on my soul." Okay not the best example, (hey, I just made it up) but I hope you get the idea. Using metaphor and similes are a great way of increasing your poetry's quality.

But be careful; too much imagery in a poem, especially using a wide array of different images that have no connection, can leave your reader a bit lost in the woods. The reason for this seems to be if you throw too many different images (say a dented bucket and a dancing moon) at the reader too quickly, the reader doesn't have the time to make a connection to your point. So the reader is forced to slow down and look for the meaning. Worse yet, if the poem is being read aloud to an audience, you are simply going to lose them. At best they'll catch the imagery in their mind's eye but cannot relate it back to the message.
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This article: 1999 J. Lavigne. All rights reserved.


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