Saturday, October 18, 2008

Detail and context at 70 miles an hour

Quick: Turn on the camera, press the zoom, roll down the window, try to see the shot before you've passed it, click, turn off the camera, roll up the window. Repeat.

This was a new experiment in travel photography for me.

Often, I just didn't have time to get the shot. Other times, I didn't even have the energy to try, especially with the requisite speed.

And even more times, I realized that the delicious image I saw would not come across in a picture, or a picture I could take. The stripes of shadow in the field rows needed to be close up enough for abstraction, or it would just be a picture of a field—and without the wider context of the mountains (still very far away), the field would be just another field. I was stuck in the middle distance, with a fair amount of blur.

This made me think about detail and context in poems—how it helps to provide a wider background to anchor the reader—but the details (images, quirks, things you might not notice but now notice in a new way) breathe life into the poem, even when they become abstractions of themselves (if they retain some of their original color or texture or taste or smell). And how do you fit both, elegantly into a poem?

That made me think of Richard Hugo and the triggering town, about getting off the initial subject as soon as possible and going somewhere else. I think that I often kind of hang out with that original subject—I like it, I wanted to write about it—and I don't travel from it, or I don't go far enough. On the one hand, I don't want to be formulaic, but on the other hand, it's looking like pretty good advice.

Now I've rambled on for a while. It's my turn to listen. What do you think about the breadth and depth of a poem? How do you jump off the triggering subject, and do you have a favorite place that you go?

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