Friday, July 25, 2008

You are here

While walking home and looking at the deep green canopy of trees arching overhead, I realized again how important place is in a poem.

The poems that work best, for me, give me not only music or narrative or imagery, but a bearing. I can imagine where I'm at.

In the poem, I'm given the colors, sounds, and smells, the hard surfaces and the shiny ones, the weight of water or light—a richly woven fabric of senses.

In the best of worlds, the scene isn't just described in adjectives and similes. It's revealed in unexpected images that catch my breath, even though they are cut from the whole cloth of the poem.

Lately, my favorite example of this comes from "Mangoes," by Tracy K. Smith.

The woman in a blouse
The color of daylight
Motions to her daughter not to slouch.
They wait without luggage.
They have been waiting
Since before the station smelled
Of cigarettes….

I love the way this tells me so much without saying the name of a color or the time of day. I can imagine all the Greyhound bus stations I've ever been in (especially Oakland at six or seven in the morning).

Do you think place is important in a poem? Do you anchor your poems in time or place? How do you set the scene?

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