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Imagery (part 4)

3. Kinetic imagery

Sound effects can create a sense of motion, but this isn’t precisely what I mean by kinetic imagery. Kinetic imagery is another application of sensual imagery that’s worth talking about because it rarely gets named or discussed, but can be incredibly important to a poem. Kinetic imagery is the creation of motion through an energetic and precise use of verbs, and the use of particular verbs to further an image. To investigate kinetic imagery, we’ll look more closely at two poems we’ve already read.

In “At Roane’s Head”, the poet uses verbs that mimic sounds, and though these verbs aren’t familiar to me they feel very real, sensory, strong, and specific. Here’s one place where that happens:
Someone saw them once, outside, hirpling
down to the shore, chittering like rats,​
Combined with the previous descriptions of the children, I imagine a sort of whooping, circular, loping motion – like the way skunks and otters run, strange sad and hilarious. The motion helps characterize them, and the invented verb helps set them apart from the rest of humanity.

In “the pool girl”, the poet uses a combination of an unexpected verb and alliteration:
sky skid across the surface​
The s sounds mimic skidding, and the verb skid itself creates an image of a surface and small hops across that surface, each word a hop. The verb skid also enforces the idea of a surface or a barrier in the way “hop” wouldn’t. Part of the power of skid in this line is the fact that the sky doesn’t usually skid – the sky is usually passive, existing above our heads rather than acting. Getting the sky to do something makes it a more active and physical part of the poem.

In general, kinetic imagery happens for a moment in a poem, and is one of the many small tool that poets use to create images and convey ideas. The world is in motion, so the poem captures some of that motion. Other poems make the impression of motion a central purpose, such as in the following excerpt:
first stanza of The Waste Land section I. Burial of the Dead by T.S. Eliot

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar kine Russin, stamm' aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the archduke's,
My cousin's, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

While using a string of gerunds (“-ing” verbs) is not a foolproof way to create motion and is actually very difficult to pull off, it works very well in this poem; the combo of repetition and variation creates a sense of new seething life below the surface of the poem/the ground. The verbs combine to create the motion: breeding, mixing, stirring, covering, feeding: all verbs of life. In this case, though the verbs are specific to the feeling of spring, it isn’t one verb that creates the motion but all of them.

Think of kinetic imagery every time you structure a sentence. Try to use active sentence structures if they fit into the poem, and consider the specificity of your verbs (and the power of a specific verb).


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