July 6, 2008

Imagism and Natural Landscape

I read the poem "The Changing Light" by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and thought of some photographs I had taken in San Francisco many years ago. There was something about the light. It wasn't East Coast light.

That poem is from his book How to Paint Sunlight (New Directions,2001) and in the foreword he wrote: "All I ever wanted was to paint light on the walls of life. These poems are another attempt to do it."

I also couldn't help but think about Carl Sandburg's "Fog."

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

That's a poem I read a few times in school classrooms and probably had an English teacher use it for a lesson in imagism. That was the name given to a movement in poetry in the early 20th century and represented by Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, and others. It aimed at clarity of expression through the use of precise visual images.

A few other poems that might have been in that section of the anthology:

In a Station of the Metro by Ezra Pound

The Apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

and the poem that is sometimes called "The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams. He actually left it untitled but for a number when it was first published. (I think it should be untitled.)


so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Are all imagist poems so short? No, but many are rather brief. Still, people have a lot to say about a little poem like Williams' "XXII."

I thought this month you might try your hand at a poem that is very much anchored in an outdoor place. Your poem does not need to be purely an exercise in imagism, but it should bring into it the light, the weather and the natural atmosphere of the place. A kind of natural landscape should be present in the poem. Beyond that informal form, if you choose to have something else going on in the poem, all the better.

I was also reading a book about Robert Frost this week and in one section Frost said that a poem should have several doors in it - but the poem shouldn't open them. I'd say that's good advice for this prompt too.


  1. What's the book on Frost that you were reading?

  2. I'm reading Brian Hall's Fall of Frost - a fictional life of Robert Frost. I will post something about it later this week.

  3. I enjoy reading the "extended" prompts here on the blog - but I don't understand why they are not reproduced on the main website. I think some readers only look at the site and so are not getting the same information about the prompt. Would there be any harm in putting the full version in both places?

  4. I agree with Lia. Great idea. Thanks for the Frost link.


    I have thought about this and actually asked several trusted poet friends for their opinions.

    If majority rules, then I would allow the blog version of the prompt (the second, extended version) to stand on its own. I hope that readers of the site would click through to the blog which contains more that is "related" (though generally not "necessary") to the prompt.

    The blog was intended to be an extension of the site for more than just the prompt with news and other poems and books.

    Plus, I hoped the blog would inspire conversation about the prompts and poetry - and it has done that on some occasions.

  6. I'm very curious about poets as bloggers. No doubt you know quite a few poets and at least a few poet-bloggers. Poets Online is a wonderful site so many of us come to in order to be inspired or simply to read some of the new (or older, archived) poems. Being a poet myself, I realize I need time to reflect a lot before committing to paper (or screen) while many of the bloggers I see around tend to be people who like to plunge in and get ideas out very quickly. So here's the question: why is it so few of the poets who use this site don't add their own comments in the blog? Any thoughts on this?

  7. Why is it so few of the poets who use this site don't add their own comments in the blog? Any thoughts on this?

    It's an interesting question--my guess is that not commenting allows one to retain a sense of complete detachment and invisiblity. Why are there more lurkers and leachers than content producers on the web?

    You can spend lots of time posting responses to blogs, if that's your thing. If you're the "plunge right in type," and subscribe to the "first thought, best thought" school of spontaneity, it's no big deal to leave a comment. To comment implies a willingness to engage in a conversation that could lead anywhere. Whenever I post a comment, it feels as though some invisible hand has given me a hard shove between the shoulder blades, causing me to stumble forward out of the darkness into the light.

    If you're like me, after I read a blog entry, the brain starts constructing a chain of associations that leads away from the page. Once that happens, I don't return to post a comment. Rarely do I jot down an intial thought or reaction to a blog entry.

    Comments that provide a new slant on a subject or that nudge the conversation in an interesting or surprising direction are appreciated. An intelligent comment can take quite a bit of time to compose. I always check out reader responses to books listed on Amazon, for example. Many of those posts are better than the publisher's editorial remarks. Some readers have submitted hundreds of insightful reviews, as well as useful recommendations for further reading, and make up a pretty savvy group of unpaid book critics.

    But if you're afraid of sounding stupid, it's probably better not to post your ideas for the world to read. Mindless comments are like litter on the side of the road--the kind of garbage you find posted on political blogs or under a UTube video.

    Post a comment and you invite a response. I've seen rather innocent comments lead to some pretty heated exchanges. Poets are sensitive creatures, not really looking to stir up trouble. Most people, it seems to me, have learned to keep their heads down for fear of getting them blown off.

    The question reminds me of the typical classroom situation where a few students actively participate in a discussion while the rest of the class listens but does not voice an opinion or offer any additional insights. It's not that those students are disengaged or disinterested; they're simply content to lie on the bank and watch the river flow without ever getting a toe wet. Maybe that reluctance to dive in serves as a kind of quality control that eliminates the dumb comment, the ill-considered remark. In that case, it's a good thing that most people don't feel compelled to add their two cents worth to the conversation. If all comments were thoughtful as well as thought-provoking, there would be no need to monitor what is posted to a site.

    As for me, I'm content sitting on the sidelines as a spectator unless there is some overwhelming compulsion that makes me want to take the field. To comment or not to comment--it's a question of rechanneling energy and giving something back. Most of the time, I'm too lazy to do that.

    Posting a comment entails a degree of commitment that most people prefer not to take on for whatever reason--limited time and/or distraction, most likely. But without comments, you don't get that sense of vital community, that feeling of being involved in a common endeavor.


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