POETIC TOOLBOX: WORDS, PHRASES, AND IMAGES

 

(Note: The words and poets that helped to inspire this essay can be found on a video Fooling With Words with Bill Moyers – A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft, a PBS documentary on the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival.)

 

After hearing several poets speak of their love of words and images, and of having kept journals of such when they were children— I was reminded that the basic tools of the art are the very words and images one is drawn to, especially those that stir a wellspring of emotion or enthusiasm.

 

Along with inspiration, and the various techniques and structures that each writer implements in crafting a poem, the bread-and-butter, or the hammer-and-nails, so to speak—are words, phrases, and images.

 

As one might rummage through a toolbox, finding just the correct length of nail or screw, and just the correct tool… so too does the poet, on the basic level of craft, learn to handle words and images. Metaphor would perhaps be considered a bit higher on the conceptual scale for it is from the words themselves, such as ‘tools, bread, butter, poem…’ that metaphor finds a kind of solidity with an image.

 

This honoring of the basic building blocks of poems helps to humanize, or normalize the process of writing poems, though not lessening the mysterious and inspiring process.

 

Oftentimes it is a simple word or unique phrasing that so stirs the poetic impulse to expand and evolve until….there is a poem!

 

The getting from here to there is another subject…requiring imagination, metaphor, purpose, contemplation and editing...but for starters, keeping tabs on and cultivating those words, phrases and images encourages the process.

 

The phrase “radiant illumination” so endeared me that it became the cornerstone-phrase for a lengthy poem. Words and phrases are not just two-dimensional, for ‘inside’ of a word, such as “pomegranate”, live seeds and trees and a wealth of other suggestive experiences.

Glancing at the dictionary (toolbox), there is “pome” defined as “a fleshy fruit”, such as an apple, having several seed chambers…”1 If that’s not a “poem”, perhaps a haiku in and of itself, then poetry is reduced to some mere egotistical manipulation of words. Language, in and of itself, can be poetic.

 

Ah, the pomegranate! The root “granate” or “grenate” equals ”having many seeds”… and suddenly I am wondering where this word might take me. Yet being unfamiliar with the actual taste and texture of pomegranates, a trip to the supermarket might enhance my poetic repertoire on such a topic.

 

Yet another dictionary definition states: “a thick-skinned several-celled reddish berry…and has many seeds with pulpy crimson arils of tart flavor”2 Now there's another poetic phrase, "pulpy crimson arils", though what an "aril" is I'll have to look up.

 

Whatever the words, phrases, and images that stir you are.. try them out on all of your senses-- real or imagined-- and having done so…a poem will most likely start taking shape.

 

-- Mankh (Walter E. Harris III)

endnotes:

1 The American-Heritage® College Dictionary Fourth Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston – New York, 2002.

2 Merriam-Webster’s® Collegiate Dictionary Tenth Edition, Merriam-Webster, Incorporated, Springfield, Massachusetts, 2000.

 

PPA welcomes submissions to “Poetic Nectar: Poets’ Essays on Poetry”.

Essay topics are limited to ‘the craft of poetry and poetry related activities,’ and should be of a constructive and positive nature that encourages writers and readers at all levels.

 

Email submissions to Mankh

Or mail to:

Walter E. Harris III

PO Box 562

Selden, NY 11784

 

 

Please include name, phone number, and very brief (1-2 lines) bio.

Language, in and of itself, can be poetic.

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