The Imagist Poem

Probably because I was a poet first, then I “grew up” and became a journalist, my return at middle age to poetry has been somewhat  the journey of a lumberjack with a dull saw through a forest of rotting trees. In other, more literal words, I have had to work my brain backwards through a very established prose voice into the internal mechanisms of lyric. This has required a brief, but fierce love affair with the Imagists.

Imagism happened in the early 20th Century as a reaction to the overt floweriness and wordiness of Victorian poetry. Imagism was one of the forks in the road of Modernism. It’s fun to explore Imagism by deploying Imagism. The quickest way to make an apple look different is to peel said apple down to its core. That is one of  Ezra Pound’s “rules” on Imagism–direct treatment of the object itself, either objectively or subjectively. No talking around the thing….only discourse on the thing itself.

The second of Pound’s rules is that under no circumstances should the poet ever waste or misuse a word. If the word isn’t necessary to the meaning of the poem or the creation of the image in the poem, then the word doesn’t belong. Imagist poems are sparse.

Pound’s third rule supports the second rule because the rhythm and meter of the poem are dictated by the absolute aversion to use of unnecessary words. So therefore, there is no substitution of a three syllable word for a two-syllable word in order to achieve pentameter. Rhythms follow the pattern of the metronome, not a specific amount of beats per measure. Modernist poetry appears in no recognizable form, and yet the great poems of this time appeal to the reader’s internal longing for a form. Imagist poetry works without working.

Today’s reading audience is much more comfortable with prose than with lyrical or imagistic poetry. An imagist poem requires a leap of faith into the unknown…a getting from the not getting, so to speak. My most recently published poem “World Without Grace” takes a stab at the writing of an Imagistic poem. I write them or attempt to write them because it is so much more satisfying and so much more challenging to write than the typical prose-poem. An imagist poem runs great risk of being misunderstood because the reader has to work harder, especially when the reader encounters an imagist poem written by the lesser-skilled imagist poet like myself. Sometimes the meaning is murky because I lacked the ability to create in a few sparse words the poem I sought to create. Often times that is the case.

This particular poem is fairly simple to comprehend if the title is absorbed as part of the poem. If the title is distanced from the text of the poem, readers get confused by what I was trying to say.  This poem did not totally succeed without punctuation and capitalization. I like to think I was experimenting with free flow imagery, but perhaps I was just being a lazy editor of my own work. Certainly, the gift to the world of a poem that no one understands can be a “world without grace” to the giver of the gift. To anyone who read this poem and doesn’t get it, I would suggest you put my poem down and find yourself some Ezra Pound. In the hands of a master, Imagism can be a very satisfying experience.