Monday, July 27, 2020

C. Liegh McInnis on imagery in black poetry

Lift Every Voice and Sing by Augusta Savage


“Form, especially the mastery of imagery, is important to me,” writes C. Liegh McInnis in an article he wrote about reading twenty-five volumes of poetry by African American poets in twenty-five days. His focus on imagery elevated its importance for me. 

"Of course, I do not mind the extended use of vocabulary, but these poets are using the terms as if having a large vocabulary is equated with or deemed as impactful/powerful as mastery of imagery," he writes at one point. "Yes, creative writing is about vocabulary, but, at its core, is it not about painting with words? Moreover, is it not about painting with words to create a vivid and specific or concrete understanding of an idea or concept?" (2). 

At one point, he lists off the 20-plus volumes of poetry that he read and provides brief comments or notations on the pieces. He notes that several of the poets show "Excellent use of imagery,” or their poems reveal “Excellent imagery." There are moments when he is turned off by obscure/vague in some volumes, but he expresses being moved in positive ways because of the imagery. McInnis is most interested in poems that achieve "the right balance of well-crafted imagery while being intellectually challenging without being obscure/vague" (13). 

I've been taking a break, but when I work my way back to reading poetry on a regular again, I plan to think and write more seriously about imagery than I have in the past. I'm interested in exploring some of the issues that McInnis has highlighted for me in his article. I'm curious about how folks are constructing and references vivid scenes in their works. 

And why stop with just verse? Fiction writers are dealing with imagery and so are prose writers. So it might make sense to consider a little more attentively to what some of the folks are doing. 

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Here's more in my series on his article

 

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