Images for poetic inspiration
It might just be that I have a penchant for good photography, but I suspect that I’m not the only person who sometimes writes poetry in direct response to an image, whether it’s a painting, a photograph or a scene from in real life. But what types of image make for the perfect poetic inspiration? For the type of poetry I typically write (my poetry for adults, that is; my poetry for children is usually quite different!), I’m looking for several things:
For me, emotion means people and usually this also means photographs that capture in a split-second something essential about that person’s character and soul. Having a photograph means that you can paint an accurate word-picture of how they look in great detail (because you wouldn’t be able to stare at somebody so closely in real life!), as well as begin to piece together something of what it’s like to be them, to fit inside their skin. Even if telling your character’s backstory isn’t part of your poem, and even if your poem is more thematic and doesn’t speak about a single person, using a photograph in this way can add a deeper sense of realism to your poetry and is never time wasted.
Storytelling, like emotion, is an essential part of much of my own poetry, and one that is often inspired by photography. Although poems can describe a particular place, feeling, time or person, they more often than not take the reader somewhere, in the way that a story does. If a reader finishes your poem feeling the same as when they started reading it, you didn’t do a good job (or you at least need to work much harder on the poem before showing it to anyone else!).
Whether the story you’re telling is your own or someone else’s, the perfect picture can help you to put yourself directly within it and feel it as your own, and photographs like the one above provide a wonderful snapshot. Remember that whatever the story is, you don’t have to tell it all – your readers are an intelligent bunch and they usually like something to think about and figure out for themselves!
I was going to entitle this paragraph ‘beauty’ but changed my mind. Beauty is, we are told, in the eye of the beholder, and not all great poetry is beautiful. In fact, some of my favourite poems are full of nitty-gritty realism, anger or despair. Neither was ‘simplicity’ an adequate subtitle, although this is present in many of the images I am drawn to and I like to think that great poems have an underlying simplicity and strength. So what then is the quality I’m trying to describe? Perhaps the best way to sum it up is with the word ‘truth’. Often an image will strike me as so honest, so vivid and so full of essential truth that it imprints itself on my mind and is not satisfied until a decent poem has been penned in response. The above picture is one such example for me (I haven’t written the poem yet and it’s still there at the back of my mind…), but the category runs the gamut from war scenes in WW1 trenches and modern political photography to social images and photos from the natural world. Images that have this inner truth are incredibly powerful. The same can be said for poems.
There’s just something about surreal art that is rather wonderful for the poetic brain, isn’t there? Images that twist and take you to unexpected places, or surprise you with something that was hiding there all along are, to me, central to the joy and exuberance of both art and poetry. I’m fortunate enough to be able to play with words and pictures as my day job, but rarely do I have more fun than when taking an idea and turning it into something new, exciting and unexpected. If you can make your readers feel that same exuberance and wonder through your poetry, you’ve really done something very special.
This blog post is, of course, a very personal and subjective opinion on the types of images that make for great poetic inspiration, but I’d love your opinions. Do you use images to inspire your words? Are there specific types of images you are drawn to? And is there anything that is important to you within those pictures? Would love your comments!