Wednesday, April 20, 2016

You Write, I Write, We All Write Poetry Part 3



The Image Couplet

The language of poetry creates imagery. An image creates something we see, hear, smell, taste, or touch, not in the real world, but completely within the confines of our imaginations. The ability to create images from words is essential to writing poetry.

For example, consider the following:

A red balloon pops.

This somewhat simple line engages two of our senses. Assuming we have any experience at all, we see the red balloon, and we hear it "pop."

An Image Couplet is a two-line poem, with a title, that uses an image to extend or deepen the meaning of a common experience. The couplet has a simple template. The first line might be called the "trigger" line, since its purpose is to set some descriptive context — where are we or what are we looking at? The second line might be called the "charge," since it "charges" the first line with some kind of unexpected emotional or sensory shift.

I'll use the image above to create a simple couplet:

Summer Morning
The sun rises on the eastern horizon,
A red balloon pops.


The first line sets the stage with a fairly common event, the sun rising. The second line asks the reader to reconsider the first line from another perspective, in this case, by adding a descriptive metaphor comparing the sunrise to the popping of a red balloon. Perhaps as you read the two lines, you see an explosion of the colour red.

Notice that the poem has a title. The title is actually an important part of the image couplet. It serves to set the scene, and establishes a place, a position, or a perspective from which the reader will begin the journey through the rest of the poem.

One of the most famous image couplets was written by Ezra Pound:

In a Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.


Here, you can see how the title sets the scene, a subway station. The first line recounts a view of people in the subway, and the second line offers an imaginative interpretation of those faces — as "petals on a wet, black bough." How you understand the second line will determine how you understand the first. These faces invoke something quite beautiful while at the same time being precariously in danger of falling from the "black bough." The nature of beauty is often seen by poets as transient, there for a moment and then gone.

The use of punctuation is also an important part of the image couplet. Usually, the poet uses a comma at the end of the first line. Pound uses a semi-colon. In either case, the punctuation is there to tell the reader to pause for a moment, before reading the second line. This hesitation is designed to set up the charge or surprise of the second line.

When choosing an image to respond to your couplet's first line, it is important to remember that the less the two descriptions or ideas have in common, the better. An image couplet is most memorable when readers are surprised by the second line and are allowed to examine the world through a new perspective. It's all about giving the reader's head a good shake.

Writing image couplets is primary to writing any kind of poetry. These small poems test your ability to create thoughtful and imaginative images. I've always seen the image couplet as a kind of training ground for every fledgling poet. Write one or two a day for several months in a special journal, and in no time at all, you will develop the ability to transform reality into poetry.

 









 








 
 


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