Vancouver-based poet Fred Wah offers three options for seeing the stories in objects. Try it!
Concrete vs. Abstract
“Perception is the first act of the imagination,” said William Carlos Williams. The problem we are trying to confront in this exercise has multiple consequences in our writing, not the least of which is how the use of abstract language tends to make the words themselves transparent. This transparency is related to our frequently unconscious assumptions about the cachet of the lyric poem (if it has words like “love,” “beauty,” “the world’s decay,” and so forth, it carries the stamp of poetic authenticity). The material we work with becomes secondary to ulterior intentions (like moralizing, teaching, claiming power, etc.).
Try one of these exercises:
1. Describe one of many (one egg in a dozen of eggs, one car in a parking lot, and so forth — but avoid these examples). Try to indicate the qualities of the group as well as the distinctness of a particular member of that group.
“One’s-self I sing, a simple separate person,
Yet utter the world Democratic, the word En-Masse.”
2. Write a poem that is a list of objects in such a way that we get the sense that a story is being told.
3. Do a short investigation of an item, an activity, a word and find out as much as you can about the language associated with the item, activity, or word (the “discourse” that surrounds it). Look for active and concrete verbs, names, colourful and unusual terminology, and so forth. Save from your search lists of nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Write a poem using as many of the nouns and verbs as you like, but only one adjective.