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Word Pictures, A Poem's Worth A Thousand Images

Updated on April 11, 2010

Creating An Experience

A great piece of writing is an experience. Anyone who's ever read Frost or Wordsworth, enjoyed Shakespeare's sonnets or floated down the river with Mark Twain knows how easy it is to get lost in the words and let the world just fade away for a while. The difficulty, as any writer or poet knows, is in how to create that experience for your readers. My professor, a very smart poet named Kevin Craft, always maintained that a good poem should have a story. In fact, is a short story compressed into just a few lines. If you want to write a story, you have to have a character. In poetry, we call this the VOICE. The voice in the poem can be your own, a serial killer, or the old woman down the street with a hundred cats and no living family.

The biggest mistake I see from beginning poets is the lack of voice. It's easier to tell the reader what they want to hear than to show them. If we want to create a good poem that people really want to read and experience we have to give them imagery! Illustrate your work with a storyline, a setting, or a really great character and you've definitely begun. Do the best you can to present those images in an original and engaging fashion with no baggage attached and viola! You have a wonderful experience for the reader that you had fun writing yourself.

I get my images for my poetry from life experience, second-hand description, art exhibits, history books, other poets, fiction, even the tabloids sometimes. When you find a great image for a poem, write it down. I can't stress enough how important it is for a poet or writer to keep a notebook with phrases they like, great imagery they've found, and cool quotes they run across. If you keep a journal, add these things to it. Then, whenever you're stuck on a poem or story, you have a whole catalog of ideas to fall back on.

Presenting an image in a poem can be difficult sometimes. You could say, "an old, rusty metal gate clangs as it swings." This is descriptive and we can all picture it in our heads, right? But how much more fun is it to read, "Open, shut, open, shut, a rusted metal gate swings, ringing like an old farmwife on her dinner bell." Now there are two images in this stanza that work together to create an experience and make for a much better poem. The more "word pictures" you can create, the more other people are going to be able to relate to your poem and the better your work will be.

  In the next capsules I've presented two drafts of the same poem so that you can see some of the process I go through when I'm revising.  I feel the second version is much better and more complete than the first but you see what you think and feel free to let me know!

Silver's Edge

An island fortnight in a moment,

the last flourescent haze

dimming behind the tree line.

Slow burn of caffeine upon dulled senses

like rolling brush across a wasteland.

You are an empty kayak washed against the rocks,

or the background tinkle of the ice cream truck

I chased so avidly as a child.

Now, just noise.


Step a bit to the side, love

so I can see the first glint

of silver's edge, a pale crescent hovering

unembarrassed, unapolagetic for daring to exist.

Easier to stand the cliffs alone, poised between flight

or fall, than to wade one more minute

in the muck and mire and white noise

that is you.


May; we stand on the porch in our nightclothes

tiki torch guttering, the frogs a byzantine cacophany.

You wrap your hand around my wrist like a barbwire bracelet.

An Island fortnight in a moment, the last flourescent haze dimming

behind the tree line, shadows sprawling ever deeper.

You are an empty kayak washed against the rocks,

or the background tinkle of the ice cream truck I chased

so avidly as a child.


The screen door slams in the warm breeze,

swimming in a smoke screen, the tick-tock-clack of footsteps

through my skull. Memories of cozy December nights,

the five hours we spent in the emergency room

that time you sliced your finger with the bandsaw,

a cast-iron skillet popping its hot grease.

What we could have had is used up, joined to the mainland

calling you away.


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    • northweststarr profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Washington State

      My butt does need to get moving doesn't it? ;)

    • Max Havlick profile image

      Max Havlick 

      6 years ago from Villa Park, Illinois

      My recommendation? Put them both in the book with your fascinating commentary and include even the second thoughts about preference.

      Then move your butt on to your next bright idea. Don't get stuck washing and re-washing your hands over and over.

    • northweststarr profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Washington State

      Thank you for great comment and your continued attention, Max! I also had a hard time choosing between the two. I like the sound in the first one and the story in the second, probably a good idea to revise these again and try to get the great sound of the first more into the second. Something for the book, someday, I guess. Toodles!

    • Max Havlick profile image

      Max Havlick 

      6 years ago from Villa Park, Illinois

      How did I miss this item before now? An excellent discussion more than worthy of any workshop for writers. Both poems I consider worthy and instructive, but your transition to more concrete story imagery is persuasive.

      Your invariably constructive response to your commenters is also far above average and worthy of attention.

    • northweststarr profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Washington State

      TY JadedLove, I would agree that eyes are windows, or sometimes the shutters to the soul. As writers, it's always nice to feel appreciated. Don't let anyone get you down!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I love to paint pictures with words. The beauty within each persons eyes that reads the sorrow, pain or love makes it that much better.

      Johnny Love

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      8 years ago from Chicago

      I very much enjoyed your article, and the poem is very good. Thank you for this pleasure.

    • northweststarr profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Washington State

      Thanks for the lovely comments dkrainwater, agusfanani! dk, I'm glad your english teacher friend enjoyed it! I love sharing my knowledge and creative resources with others and hope you find the time to enjoy all my work!

    • agusfanani profile image


      8 years ago from Indonesia

      You're very good at writing poems, I've learned a lot from this hub. Thanks for sharing.

    • dkrainwater profile image


      8 years ago from Sheridan, Wyoming

      Great stuff. I shared it with a english teacher co worker and she loved it.

    • northweststarr profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Washington State

      Thanx a lot!

    • aware profile image


      8 years ago from West Palm Beach Florida.

      nice . very nice. nice to read you

    • northweststarr profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Washington State

      Thanx Michael!

    • Michael Shane profile image

      Michael Shane 

      8 years ago from Gadsden, Alabama

      Very true! Great topic & hub!

    • northweststarr profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Washington State

      Thanx for your comments pinkhawk and tonymac! I'm glad you got something helpful from this hub and love intelligent comments!

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      I found this Hub both inspiring and helpful. Thank you for writing it. Poetry is a distillation of experience and feeling which, at its best, draws the reader in and evokes similar feelings in the reader as the writer experienced. The "show, don't tell" admonition is the key. And of course the most difficult part, in my experience.

      Thanks again for sharing this. I have bookmarked it for future reference.

      Love and peace


    • pinkhawk profile image


      8 years ago from Pearl of the Orient

      ...word pictures--experience!--wow cool! I found something quite helpful! thank you very much! need to remember this...^_^

    • northweststarr profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Washington State

      Thanx for your comment and glad you got something positive out of my hub! If you want to know the reason I changed those last few lines in the revision, it's because I felt they were a cliché and something that people had heard to many times before. It was punchier though and I'm glad you enjoyed it. This poem probably still isn't finished I've got so more work to do on it.

    • Jen's Solitude profile image

      Jen's Solitude 

      8 years ago from Delaware

      I never thought of poetry as creating a experience or character, makes the process much easier though, thinking about it in that way. Thank you again!

      My favorite is Silver's Edge, easier to stand the cliff alone, than wade one more minute in the muck and mire . . . really catches my imagination.

    • northweststarr profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Washington State

      Thanx for the great comments Pamela and warrioRR! I appreciate any feedback! EnLydia, not sure what you meant. I don't think I used "unemployed" or "economic collapse" in either of my examples. Though I'm thinking that might be a great challenge for a poem of your own. (If it was sarcasm darling, I assure you I probably make more than you.) Keep up the good hubbing!

    • profile image

      EnLydia Listener 

      8 years ago

      I like both use words well...some words and images don't get used often enough...and some are repeated too "unemployed" and "economic collapse"

    • warrioRR profile image


      8 years ago from Rawalpindi Pakistan

      That is Awesome

      idea is inspiring great work keep it upP

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      8 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Interesting hub. I liked your poem and the article about creating the experience.


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