Portrait by Tao Nguyen

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Poetry is a way to express thoughts and emotions in a way that might not otherwise be possible, and poems come in many forms. By doing a little surfing around I found a website listing 55 formats. Some of the better known ones are free verse, rhyme, haiku, sonnet, ballad, couplet, and limerick. Each has its own distinct characteristics and style. So what about visualization? How can this influence the writing of poetry?

Visualization is a powerful tool and technique for creating whatever you want—whether it be floating on a cloud or walking along a tropical beach with the person of your dreams. It’s a way of achieving a state of complete relaxation and freeing your mind of unnecessary chatter. This is a good thing to do before you meditate. In relation to poetry, visualization is a way of fine-tuning your senses to a heightened state of observation. Then, when you write poetry, the words will emerge from a place deep within your soul. Some people think you must follow the rules of grammar and punctuation but I prefer to say there are no rules or mistakes when writing poetry. Just write what comes out in whatever form it takes and let the words flow without criticism.

In the prologue of GOOD FORTUNE, Grandfather teaches his young grandson, Tong, about poetry. Here is a short excerpt :

            The villagers viewed Tong as a well-educated man, tutored by his grandfather, a respected scholar in his own right, having earned the reputation of being a gifted poet. Grandfather passed on his talent with words to his ten-year-old grandson, teaching him to see using more than his eyes.
            “You’re a fine student, Tong. You have learned history and mathematics, but now I think you’re ready to discover there is more to knowledge than just the basic fundamentals,” Grandfather announced one wet afternoon.
“What else is there to learn, Grandfather?”
“How to write poetry.”
“Poetry? Why is that important?” Tong tilted his head and frowned.
“Anyone can memorize facts and theories, but writing poetry is an art that teaches you lessons with the words you write.”
“I don’t understand.”
“An artist expresses himself with brush strokes on paper and the colors he mixes. It’s the same with a poet who chooses what words to use to paint a verbal picture.”

Here I’d like to interject that a similar metaphor could be used in relation to composing music. The notes on the page are the equivalent of words to a poet, and a painter’s brush strokes. Grandfather’s lesson continues when he suggests that he and Tong take a walk in the rain. They don their raincoats and boots and as they walk down the muddy village road, Tong observes the sights and smells of the damp earth, smoke from a chimney, cooking food etc. When they arrive at the village inn, a dog is rummaging through the garbage out back in search of a bone.

“What do you see, Tong? Look around and tell me,” Grandfather said.
“I see muddy footprints, a hungry dog, and a rainbow.”
“Good. Now close your eyes and tell me what you see.”
“That’s silly, Grandfather. How can I see with my eyes closed?”
“Just do as I say.”
Tong sighed. “All right.”
With his eyes squeezed tight he heard the sound of splashing mud as townspeople walked down the lane, and he almost imagined he could see their sloshing feet leave impressions in the wet ground. The dog found his bone, and Tong heard him chewing it as well as the low growl emitting from his throat when someone came too close. In his mind he could see the dog clearly. The scent of the warm, moist earth filled his nostrils and made him feel happy, so happy that he saw the rainbow.
“I can see, Grandfather. My eyes are closed, but I see the dog and the rainbow and the mud. I see everything.”
“That’s good, very good.” Grandfather nodded and was pleased with his clever grandson. “Before you open your eyes, memorize what you see so you can write about it.”
Back home, Grandfather handed Tong a sheet of rice paper. “I want you to compose a short poem about our walk today and your observations. Two lines only.”
This assignment presented a challenge. Tong had to think long and hard about what to write. Two sentences didn’t give him much to work with. Although this sounded like a simple assignment, in reality it was quite difficult. He took his time and when he was ready, he picked up his brush, moistened it, and ran the bristles across the ink block. The Chinese symbols he wrote were in Kaiti simplified form:

Grandfather, you taught me to see with closed eyes.
I saw a rainbow and tall grass reaching for the sun.

Thus, Tong received his first lesson in visualization and writing poetry. Grandfather taught him to “see” with his eyes closed, and then write about it. When I wrote this section I visualized the characters and every detail around them. I wrote it as prose, but the visualization was so intense I saw everything clearly in my mind’s eye and all I had to do was type as fast as I could to capture the words on paper. Whether you want to write a poem, a journal entry or a novel, first try visualizing and see what happens.

No comments:

Post a Comment