The Dead Sheep

June 22, 2018

By the time you read this I will have presumably led a poetry craft workshop titled, “A world of Emotion, Image and Rhythm,” in which we, the class, will “practice drawing emotion from imagery and rhythm from word choices in an array of poetic exercises.” I’m planning on beginning by asking the class, “why do you write poetry in the first place?” I believe this will give me some glimpse into what motivates someone (specifically these aspiring writers) to pick up the pen and pour his/her heart and soul and mind into the public sphere; also, I’m a little nosy. I write poetry because I can’t carry a tune. I also write poetry because it’s the most fun one can have with language. Like the familiar expression, I write to find out what I know, what I think, via the unknown. Writing this essay on a class I haven’t taught yet but plan to is also helping shape that workshop. I will be thinking my way through this essay, imagining the future setting of the craft workshop, grappling with language and ideas like I do everyday—except this time with an audience (other than my two pups, Lexi and Lucy).

I did not choose this subject matter; this was the topic offered to me to present. I mention this because when I first read the title and description I almost fell off my bubble chair! Since the dawn of sound becoming language I think poets have been debating how rhythm works to create tension and music—and here I was (will be—I’m projecting into the future now), here I was, about to babble brilliantly about it in an afternoon! (I’m certain of the babble part…I cannot, however, confirm any brilliance.) But everyone knows if you’re going to eat a whale it’s best to do so bite by bite; I began to dissect this world of emotion, imagery and rhythm. First, what do those terms mean to me? Well I think I know until I open my mouth—then I find out what I think I know. in this case, however, I will first write to solve that equation on this paper. (Clever monkey I am, sometimes.) [What do they mean to the class? I don’t know what they mean to the class, so I’m going to ask them: “Class? What do the words emotion, imagery, and rhythm mean to you?” (If you think my plan is to keep asking the class questions in a flimsy attempt to steer the talking parts away from myself, you are wrong. But only a little wrong. You are mostly correct.)]
I spend a borderline unhealthy amount of time thinking about ‘how to embody the emotional in image’ (I think the distinction between “in image” and “in an image” is important to make; the image is part of a system which language and experience are also cogs in; “an” image suggests an object, perhaps—think of a painting for example; whereas “in image” is the painting but also the room the painting is hanging in and the slightly cool day outside beyond the walls of the building the painting exists in.) (There are a lot of parentheses happening because a lot of grappling through is happening.) BUT. Before I can explore how, in image, one may embody the emotional, I need to define image. Image is what the mind holds. (Damn—I just concocted that; it sounds pretty good. I’ll see if it still seems smart in the morning. Time has a funny way of doing that—turning your hat inside out.) Image is what the mind holds. What I think is keen about that observation is that it implies image is intangible (because it is in the mind) but also somehow tangible because the mind is holding it…as if it were a tangible thing. Lest we get too big for our britches, let’s consult one of the most brilliant poet minds out there: Mr. Edward Hirsch. In “A Poet’s Glossary,” Hirsch writes of “image, imagery (collective noun),” the following:
The image, which Wyndham Lewis calls the “primary pigment” of poetry, relates to the visual content of language. It speaks to our capacity to embody meaning through words. The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (1993) defines the image as “the reproduction in the mind of a sensation produced by a physical perception.” Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren define it in Understanding Poetry (1938) as “the representation in poetry of any sense experience,” whereas another handbook characterizes it as “a mental picture evoked by the use of metaphors, similes, and other figures of speech” (295).

“In The Poetics of Space (1958), the French phenomenological critic Gaston Bachelard recognizes the poetic image as ‘a sudden salience on the surface of the psyche,’ something free of causality and thus escaped from time, something with its own ontology, which places us ‘at the origin of the speaking being’” (296). There; we got “image” out of the way. Now let’s tackle emotion.
What do we mean by emotion? Surely not the stuff of Hallmark cards, but what then? I think of “emotion” as where the visceral (that which is “felt in or as if in the internal organs of the body: deep; not intellectual: instinctive, unreasoning; dealing with crude or elemental emotions: earthy”) meets the intellectual (“given to study, reflection, and speculation”). Whatever it is that makes us human, for better or for worse. But that ‘definition’ still feels like it’s too big a bite to chew. In his glossary, Hirsch speaks of “empathy and sympathy.” Merriam-Webster clocks in at: “the affective aspect of consciousness; a state of feeling; a conscious mental reaction…subjectively experiences as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body.” Emotion is, therefore, the body’s abstract responses to external stimuli, whether real or perceived. Emotion is, therefore, the body’s abstract responses to external stimuli. Emotion is, therefore, the body’s abstract responses to stimuli. Emotion is, therefore, the body’s responses to stimuli. Emotion is, therefore, the body’s responses.
Emotion is, therefore, body’s responses. (If you are still unclear, perhaps Pixar’s movie “Inside Out” will help.)
How does image, therefore, embody emotion (if emotion belongs in the dimension of the body)? (Oh, I’m sorry; did you think I was going to address that? That’s for the class!) Well I guess I could just touch upon a few things… Consider how the advertisement world depends on image eliciting an emotional response its viewers (i.e. potential customers), usually of want or desire (to become or to possess and therefore become like). Remember (as if anyone can forget) Mark Walberg in his Calvin Klein tighty whities in 1991? Six pack abs and dimples all *packaged* to get the attention of and to provoke emotion in its viewers. It is a conscientious manipulation of image—as all advertising is. For poetry, however, I think the poet should strive more for the plastic bag floating in the swirl of wind in the movie American Beauty. The unlikely made significant.
Hirsch says of rhythm:
“The word rhythm comes from the Greek word rhythmos, ‘measured motion,’ which in turn derives from a Greek verb meaning ‘to flow.’ Rhythm is sound in motion. It is related to the pulse, the heartbeat, the way we breathe. It rises and falls. It takes us into ourselves; it takes us out of ourselves. Rhythm is the combination in English of stressed and unstressed syllables that creates a pattern of fixity and flux, of surprise and inevitability… It is repetition with a difference” (534).

In short, rhythm’s how sound works. It has function, purpose; it aims to achieve a result; it does something. But how do we use this information, how do we apply the effects and affects of rhythm to our writing? Bueller? Bueller? I was going to go into a metaphor about rhythm and the waves of the ocean but when I looked up “meter” in Hirsch’s glossary, I discovered he had already eloquently done just that. Hirsch references I. A. Richards who wrote in Principles of Literary Criticism (1952): “We shall never understand metre so long as we ask, “Why does temporal pattern so excite us? and fail to realize that the pattern itself is a vast cyclic agitation spreading all over the body, a tide of excitement pouring through the channels of the mind” (376). Lance Jencks, PhD poet and philosopher says, “Poetry lies in a special place between prose and song, which makes it the most difficult and precise of the literate arts.” Joel Henry Hinrichs, “retired writer of software, now writing sonnets and novels,” begins to answer “Why is rhythm important in poetry?” by countering, “It all depends on how you define ‘poem’ and ‘poetry.’” According to Poetry Nation, “Rhythm is the opposite of cacophony.” This is getting a little murky; let’s move onto some examples, namely, “The Dead Sheep.” (You didn’t think I forgot, did you?)
Read more in Issue #7 of Decimos