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Thread: Writing Poetry: Abstract vs Concrete Imagery and Specificity

  1. #11
    Member Absolem's Avatar
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    I can see that there's no doubt that concrete lines and descriptions are a vitally important to a poems poetic value but there is beauty in abstraction. Sometimes its nice not to be spoon fed and have the interpretation open to want the readers imagination feels fit.
    "Love your enemies." - Jesus

  2. #12
    Love the Chekhov line.
    There was never a great genius without a trace of madness. Attributed to Aristotle.

  3. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robbie View Post
    Love the Chekhov line.
    It makes a great opening line for a poem.
    Last edited by cacian; June 28th, 2018 at 05:34 PM.

  4. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Absolem View Post
    I can see that there's no doubt that concrete lines and descriptions are a vitally important to a poems poetic value but there is beauty in abstraction. Sometimes its nice not to be spoon fed and have the interpretation open to want the readers imagination feels fit.
    I agree with you. I simply dont seem to have the ability to go for concrete and I am not sure why.

  5. #15
    Originally Posted by Robbie Love the Chekhov line.
    Umm, so do I. It's been my Signature for sometime.
    "I tried to drown my sorrows, but the bastards learned how to swim, and now I am overwhelmed by this decent and good feeling."
    - Frida Kahlo

  6. #16
    In the Republic III and X, Plato argues thru his character, Socrates, that the poet should be denied a place in the realm of the Philosopher King, for poets were "imitators" of Life, hence removed from Truth. . .in fact, detractors of Truth. Poetry appealed to emotions and had the capacity to inflame passion--the curse of youth--hence deflecting them from rational thought, the avenue to Truth. Plato did concede that IF those who would champion poetry would do so in prose, with elegance and beauty, they should be granted an audience and listened to with care. I can't resist pointing out that Plato's most telling argument about the nature of the Real, the True, is the famous "Allegory of the Cave" (can't remember wh Book of the Republic), where he uses a poetic device to argue his point. Implicit in Plato's objection to poetry is his fear of the concrete poetic image, which is idiosyncratic to the poet's imagination, which in turn is founded on the non-real--the antithesis of Truth.

    Theseus' oft-quoted speech in A Midsummer's Night Dream argues precisely the opposite position re the image:

    The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling
    Doth glance from heaven to earth,
    From earth to heaven
    And, as the imagination bodies forth
    The forms of things unknown
    The poet's pen turn them to shapes
    And gives to airy nothing
    A local habitation and a name

    Here, the magical ability of the poet to seize the things of the world and thru the creative process forge newness, that which 'never was', is PRAISED as consciousness of the highest order. And certainly Blake's famous pronouncement that it was the poet's job to "see the world in a grain of sand" recognizes that the universal, the abstract, if it is to emerge at all, should emerge through the concrete, not as its opposite. That is an error-in-argument we often make in current discussions of Show and Tell. Abstractions are not 'wrong' in modern poetry; rather, they are usually simply 'lazy', as the Chekov reference shows. "The moon is bright", "I love you with all my heart", "I hate you", "God loves me"--this kind of language simply sends the reader into auto-pilot, deflects them from the stuff and substance of the poem and its story, rather than pulls them in and invites their participation in the poem.

    Olly sez, "I am reluctant to dismiss the abstract image because it does not fit modern precepts", and he illustrates in his various renderings of a common subject, that some use of abstractions can produce subtle shifts in impact fueled by different intents on the part of the poet. The Raven is intensely concrete in the haunting details, the guts of the story. . .but the eerie refrain, "Nevermore" is an abstraction that works because it seems a distillation, almost concrete in its specific empowerment from the details that precede.

    I avoid abstract images, abstract words, even generalizations in my poetry. To a fault. Sometimes I strangle my own creativity, or constipate a concrete image, to avoid an abstract word. Often I'm right. But not always. I need to remind myself more often of the summative power of "Nevermore". William Carlos Williams' famous little wheelbarrow was an iconic call-to-arms which echoes, as it should, in modern concrete imagery. But let's remember a nod of recognition to the abstraction as it paces to the back of the bus, rather than a sneer.



    ________________________________________________

    "I believe in nothing but the holiness of the heart's affections and the Truth of the imagination". Keats, ​Letters

    "No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main . . . any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls -- it tolls for thee. " John Donne, Meditation XVII

  7. #17
    This is a very generous and apt post Clark. Thank you so much. I will read many times.
    There was never a great genius without a trace of madness. Attributed to Aristotle.

  8. #18
    As Clark says, ‘abstract’ and ‘concrete’ are not necessarily opposite. It may be that abstract concepts are best communicated through concrete imagery. I don’t think “modern preference” has anything to do with the efficacy of concrete imagery in poetry vs. abstraction. The problem with abstraction is that it attempts to explain complex concepts where concrete imagery illustrates. Explanation is the realm of academic writing. It’s expository. It kills poetry, which is about communication through intuition and emotion. Abstraction turns poetry into an intellectual exercise - it becomes about understanding meaning instead of absorbing meaning. I often see in amature poetry a concrete image presented, then followed with an abstract explanation of the same image. This shows that the poet is concerned about the reader understanding the image, which misses the point of poetry. It isn’t about understanding, it’s about feeling.

    None of this is to say that abstraction should be banned from poetry. There are no rules. I think many of us on these forums are frustrated by what we see as a school of academic writing that prescribes a kind of militant hegemony over the role of poetry. That is clearly a limited perspective. Abstraction can be used to introduce very broad ideas. Concrete images make these broads ideas specific. So it works to compare abstractions to concrete images, “love is a rose”, “heaven is where streets are paved with gold.” It can be argued, however (and this is where I try to go with my poetry), that the abstract side of the equation presented above is unnecessary. We can write about roses and streets paved with gold, and the reader intuitively grasps the meaning without having to make intellectual associations imposed by the author. The reader is free to create his own associations, which do not negate the author’s intended meaning, but broaden it.

  9. #19
    Tim's post, just above, warrants expansion--this entire ABSTRACT/CONCRETE-in-poetry issue warrants a "permanent" or "ongoing" status in POETRY DISCUSSIONS. It will NOT be resolved, only deepened and appreciated. It lies at the core of Poetics, ancient and modern, and the beating heart within that core is the paradoxical nature of the entire issue. As suggested earlier, Plato wants to explore Appearance "vs" Reality, then chooses as a committed, rational thinker to use an allegory to explain his 'rational thought'. Heraclitus, musing about abstract time as a continuum, rather than engaging in abstract and reasoned arguments, famously pronounced "no man can step into the same river twice". Jesus of the Gospels, called upon at every turn to answer his Disciples' nagging about God, eternal life, truth, evil. . .(well, they DO go on, don't they?). . .almost invariably uses parables, images, and metaphors, NOT direct rational answers to their seemingly rational questions. Finally, I'm fond of this from Keats's Letters: "Coleridge would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the penetralium of mystery because of an irritable reaching after fact and reason."

    All of which brings me back to Tim's point (and others on this thread too): "
    abstract concepts are best communicated through concrete imagery". We are creatures of limited consciousness and limited ability to grapple successfully with massive abstractions that we insist on putting on the table, and which our greatest thinkers routinely fuck up trying to explain to us. At the risk of being a little glib (just a little. . .) late-18th-Century European intelligentsia should have been a lot more leery than they were when Immanuel Kant called his first Big Book A Critique of Pure Reason [my bold]. . .less than a decade before Wordsworth and Coleridge wrote the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, arguing the efficacy of Truth discovered through the Imagination. We've been kicking around the abstract/concrete issue for a loooooooong time.

    So why ARGUE the issue any further? There is nothing 'modern' about this discussion at all. From The Epic of Gilgamesh (2500BC?? guesses all over the place)--a Mesopotamian epic pre-dating Homer by about 1000 years. Generally regarded as the oldest surviving piece of written literature--from Gilgamesh we learn much of ancient beliefs and attitudes about death, the underworld, power, love and loyalty, just some of the abstract concepts which grow OUT OF the concrete images of battle, journey, human interaction, fear, and courage that comprise the adventure. Portia's speech on Justice in The Merchant of Venice is one of the few instances among his 37 plays where a character addresses an abstract issue in mostly 'rational' terms. All of the other major insights into the Truths of the human condition which we find in the plays, come to us through the concrete imagery and related actions of the characters themselves.

    So it seems to me the 'movement' of our attention as poets exploring what we're doing, should be to ACCEPT that at very young ages we fumble out way into abstractions. Parents push or inveigle us to 'love your sister', hate Satan', 'respect the flag'. . .and we go along, only very vaguely having a clue what these Values ARE, but understanding only the result of failing to conform. We acquire abstractions like marbles, but the marbles are put in a bag for us and we're told never to look at them, and to use them only in darkened rooms. And so we go through life, saying 'i love you', and 'i hate cowards', and 'that was very brave, and 'he has seen the light' . . . but only dimly do we absorb and fully feel the power of the abstractions themselves. Closing this with an observation from that wisest of young men, Keats, once again: "the axioms of philosophy are not axioms until we feel them on our pulse." If poets have a charge or obligation or duty to their readers, at all (and many will argue they do NOT) I think it is to DISCOVER in the disparate concrete objects of life those elusive congruities, perhaps abstractions, that bind the universe into Oneness. And when readers feel that tingling, that jolt or shock, or an involuntary "wh aaaa. . ." escapes, they are experiencing the RECOGNITION of that unity. We call it epiphany.

    (and I would not call the foregoing Received Truth or even a Tight Argument. I just call it my Best Shot. . . . . . . . .today)



    ________________________________________________

    "I believe in nothing but the holiness of the heart's affections and the Truth of the imagination". Keats, ​Letters

    "No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main . . . any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls -- it tolls for thee. " John Donne, Meditation XVII

  10. #20
    I recently bought two books on how to write poetry.

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/00...?ie=UTF8&psc=1

    I will mention this new book that has some good tips. It gives advice on how to write specific and concrete imagery. To be specific you can consult an encyclopedia and dictionary or thesaurus. That I found to be the most valuable tip. So that you can be write more concrete details when writing be it a poem or a prose work.

    I bought a used copy of the above book. Until it gets here I won't be writing poems. That is until both arrive here. It says to write based on the 5 senses. The tips I mentioned should help complete beginners. The below book I bought as an afterthought.

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/15...?ie=UTF8&psc=1
    Last edited by Theglasshouse; February 3rd, 2019 at 11:48 PM.
    I would follow as in believe in the words of good moral leaders. Rather than the beliefs of oneself.
    The most difficult thing for a writer to comprehend is to experience silence, so speak up. (quoted from a member)

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