'Poeticks: On Imagery' 1 of 3

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1: This section applies to the following three deviations.………
2: The screenshots have been used and manipulated with explicit written permission from their respective creators. No third party may use these screenshots without permission from poeticks and the creator, and poeticks will not give permission without first consulting the creator.

3: Footnotes have not been added due to difficulty with the formatting available on deviantArt. All referenced quotations and  paraphrases have been inserted into quotation marks, and list of referenced material has been added at the end of the compilation.

4: Opinions of deviantArt writers have been left anonymous to respect the equal value of each opinion. A list of contributing deviants have been organized at the end of the deviation.

5: Interviews with individual writers have been conducted with collaborative assistance from suture and permission from each writer.


suture's "Tips for a Novice" claims, "The most important element you can inject into your poetry is imagery." Taking into account the long history and countless refined pieces of art in the world of poetry, if this is not an overstatement "imagery" must then be something of great significance and worth investigating in depth.

Through our usual means of collecting the thoughts of many writers across deviantArt, Poeticks will take a closer and comprehensive look, in hopes of enlightening the readers of the community (both literary and visual) to grasp an essential element in the art of poetry.

In chapter 1, we will answer the question "What is imagery?" and attempt to draw a conclusion from the answers provided by writers on deviantArt. We will look through the history of thoughts concerning imagery, and propose a definition of imagery in the strictest sense.

In chapter 2, we will answer the question "Is imagery essential to poetry?" by taking into consideration the definition set forth in the first chapter. We will examine this question through multiple examples, and judge whether each example can be considered "poetry" and whether or not they embody definitive traits of "imagery". In chapter 3, we will provide links to published poems, to further the enlightenment of the reader through practical experience.

In chapter 4, we will discuss "What makes good imagery?" based on the answers we have received, and will look into depth two important issues in this regard from unique perspectives.

In chapter 5, we will examine the limits of imagery through discussions on imagination, experience, sexuality, reader comprehension and abstraction based on the opinions of dA writers, external resources and experimental interview sessions in collaboration with the dA writer's showcase, suture.

We hope this compilation-cum-resource will prove to be an informative, challenging and inspiring reference point/debate material for the whole of the deviantArt writing community.

Chapter 1: Defining Imagery

A writer unfamiliar with poetry, faced with his or her task may wonder, what exactly is "imagery"? How do I use it effectively?

We decided to start off, questioning writers on deviantArt to define "imagery in terms of poetry" for us, and from those answers we were able to trace 3 different but equally important aspects of imagery in the way the term was defined.

1-1: Mental Imagery

The first was the idea of mental imagery. Answer us this:

Are the front legs of a kangaroo shorter than its back legs?

Most likely, you have instantaneously conjured a mental image, perhaps of a kangaroo (in a field?, in the desert? perhaps it has a cub in its pouch?). This is what we instantaneously identify with the notion of "imagery." And here is what dA writers had to say about mental imagery:

One writer claims imagery to be "the culmination of senses evoked by language, strong and complete enough to set a scene in the mind".
Another quotes imagery as being "the content of thought where attention is directed to sensory qualities: mental images, figures of speech and embodiments of non-discursive truth". Yet another states, [imageries are] the pictures and feelings a poet creates with his [or] her words" and that "[it] gives the reader a mental image of what is being shown, said, and told". By including imagery in your poems, "you are painting a picture with your words, so that when a reader takes those words into their mind, the words form the images, the painting, the scenes."

At least half - perhaps more - of the writers that have provided their opinions have defined imagery in one way or another, by associating it with the idea of "mental images" or "pictures". It is then not the least surprising when told that philosophers and scientists have been examining and debating mental imagery for centuries. Among the scholars, the question whether mental imagery is in fact a "picture", has been a subject of much debate. Let us take a brief look of how "imagery" has been viewed in the scientific field.

It started, as many scholastic branches of study have, in Ancient Greece. The philosopher Aristotle first developed his theories on knowledge in his work "De Anima" (or "On the Soul"), "introduc[ing] the notion of a mental faculty of imagination, allied to perception, and responsible for producing and recalling imagery". The theory that mental images are the "reappearance of faint but exact" pictures of the sensory stimuli we are subjected with, is considered the beginning of what we call now, "cognitive science", and has gone undisputed for centuries, as his theories were expanded and developed upon (although with important differences) by philosophers to follow, such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Rene Descartes, George Berkeley and David Hume, as well as psychologists such as Wilhelm Wundt and Edward Titchener.

The first major thought movement critical to pictorialism came in the early 20th century, after experiments conducted by Oswald Kulpe claimed that people often "experienced 'imageless thoughts' - conscious contents without any sensory or perceptual quality." In addition, arguments were made contending that mental imagery do not hold any objective weight or colour, and are indeterminate. (For example, a "picture" of a tiger would obviously have a definite number of stripes, whereas a mental imagery of a tiger often does not.) A controversy between the findings of Wundt and Kulpe were settled after J.B. Watson (founder of the Behaviourist movement in psychology) released an argument against "introspective experiments" (introspection was a psychological method of experimentation used by Wundt and his disciples, asking participants to look inwards and then describe how they saw their minds as functioning), which caused experimental psychology (and the idea of mental imagery altogether) to decline and be dismissed.

Debate on cognition did not resurface until the so-called "cognitive revolution" in the 1960's. An important theory at this time was put forth by Allan Paivio, who claimed that there are two cognitive modules in the human mind: one to process sensory perceptions (as imagery), and another to process non-sensory objects. Other experiments proved that two points of certain imagery takes the same amount of time to scan as in reality, and can also be rotated, confirming the existence of a visuo-spatial element in mental imagery. Whereas a school of thought led by cognitive scientist Zenon Pylyshyn claimed mental imagery to be based solely on descriptions, others, notably Stephen Kosslyn proposed that mental imagery is a non-pictorial form of information that is translated into pictorial form when in use (much like bitmaps on the computer). This debate, with much complexity, still continues to this day. For those interested in furthering their knowledge, looking up the names we have introduced above will provide you with an entrance to the various theories on this subject. Aristotle's "De Anima" can be found in full text online, and is fairly accessible in terms of content.

1-2: Rhetoric and Figure of Speech

If we go back to Plato and Aristotle's Ancient Greece once again, we may find the beginning of a discipline called "rhetoric", which is essentially the art of persuasion. (We will skip the Classical Era of rhetoric theories, which you may look up if interested.) Where it becomes relevant to writers is the modern era of rhetoric studies, which began to focus more on literature, and how written material influences the reading mind. (The classical era focused mainly on oral presentations.) Most notable were the theories set forth by literary critic I.A. Richards and the New Rhetoric movement. "In his first books, Richards constructed a model of mental functioning that he hoped would shed light on the effects of good and bad literature and the prevalence of inappropriate responses in reading" and " he devised a model patterned after a posited feature of the human nervous system." His works, especially "The Meaning of Meaning" and "Practical Criticism" are considered the most influential pieces of writings in the area of semantics and literary criticism (and are both highly  recommended for those who wish to take language and criticism seriously).

One aspect of this New Rhetoric movement that especially gained importance was the notion of "figures of speech" (although, studies on figures of speech has been extant since the Greek Era). In fact, the second significant category in terms of the definition of "imagery" included in the responses of deviantArt writers was the idea of figures of speech in poetry. (We will look at this in depth later on.)
One writer claims " [imagery] may either act as the whole poem, or a part of the poem interacting in a narrative or metaphor function."
Another states "imagery intertwined with other literary concepts to strengthen the writers' effect on their audience." Yet another: "[imagery is the] "sound" words, color and touch words, along with figures of speech and concrete details that appeal to the reader's senses and are used to build up images" and "is usually obtained with extremely figurative and vivid words, emphasized by form ([such] as in [the works of Philip] Larkin or [Robert] Browning) or by repetition (as in Larkin and Shakespeare)." And to sum up: "the poetry is not so much in the words that are being used, but how they are being used."

1-3: Rhetoric and "invention"

The third definition of imagery by deviantArt writers focused on what would otherwise be called in rhetoric jargon as "invention".
"Invention is tied to the rhetorical appeal of logos, being oriented to what an author would say rather than how this might be said." This bears close ties with the previous two points (i.e. mental imagery and figure of speech). "For example simpl[e] comparisons, [such as] "Life is a journey" is a topic of invention, a commonplace to which one may turn to generate ideas about something." One dA writer contends: "imagery is the use of words, sounds, or rhythm to elicit a sense", while another claims "imagery is the creation of an environment through words to express a feeling or idea" and it is "a representation that leads the reader beyond the obvious to an unstated parallel." Another sums up this matter nicely: "Within poetry ... imagery is the writer's access to implication. That is, a license to indirectly address the focus of their creativity, be it person, place or topic by any of a number of descriptive means which allow subjects to be juxtaposed in correlation with each other, so that life may be characterized in terms of sunset gradations – love, light – and in less clichéd fashions as the writer chooses."

1-4: Conclusion: What is "imagery"?

Taking in the above three points, it is then safe to conclude that poetic imagery is something that a) conjures a mental imagery in the reader's mind (whether it be pictorial or descriptional), b) creates those mental imageries by way of rhetoric figures of speech (such as metaphors), and c) as a result of those figures of speech, "invents" a correlation between different elements, and in turn, helps to create from within these correlations, the abovementioned mental imagery.

Chapter 2: Imagery and Poetry: Is "Imagery" essential to Poetry?

What we must now consider is the definition of "poetry" and whether poetry must - by definition - contain poetic imagery. In other words, is "imagery" an essential element that is required for poetry to be recognized as being "poetry"?

We have therefore questioned our participating writers on whether a poem completely devoid of imagery, is in fact possible. As we will see below, the replies were split.

2-1: The Yes side: Poetry without imagery is possible

A writer states: "it's definitely possible to create a poem devoid of imagery...[I]t can still be a good poem, get a point across or convey a feeling [since] imagery only helps the visual and physical sense [and] if you want to display something that isn't really there, and consists of more of a thought...imagery isn't needed." Another stipulates, "It would be difficult, but I wouldn't say it's impossible. You can create a poem of pure mediation, call it a poem, and it might be interesting. But while you can doubtlessly do it, I can't say for sure if it would be any good or not. It'd definitely be easier to write a good poem *with* some imagery in it than one without."

Many writers agree about the possible difficulties of creating a poetry devoid of imagery: "the poet usually has to be bloody good to pull it off without any imagery" and "resorting to purely abstract language is dangerous and should not be undertaken without considerable skill."

Others are in agreement over the possible consequences of taking these steps: "Personally, I believe those poems are dull and lifeless, if they hold no form of imagery at all, [unless] the purpose [is] to create the image of being devoid of life...empty, sullen and dull." claims a writer. "A poem can have no imagery, but it is gonna be rather plain. Imagery makes the poem original and different. Take it away and it loses much interest already, but still can be interesting if well written," claims another.
These opinions in short, claim a poem without "imagery" is possible, yet is highly susceptible to a sacrifice in quality and therefore is extremely difficult to achieve successfully.

2-2: The No side: Poetry without imagery is impossible

Those who disagree, disagree in several fashions.

The first is by claiming that verses lacking imagery are by definition "not poetry". A writer states, "When I read a fictional piece of something (poem or short story or novel), I would like to get something out of it. Either a lesson or entertainment - if there is nothing in the poem/prose to entertain me, I'm not going to want to read it. There has to be something in the piece from the writer - I think it goes against the nature of artistically written words to be void of imagery." Another writer adds, "In the absence of imagery, what might be a poem is merely a piece of writing, reporting rather than inviting the reader to be involved in the scene evolved from the author's creative consciousness."

Another argument contends that it is impossible for verses to lack imagery in the first place. As a writer states, "I don't believe you can create a poem without some sort of imagery. In some way or another, you are showing the reader something... and when you do that, you're providing imagery." and in addition, "the intent [of the writer] may be to not have imagery, but more than likely people (readers) WILL find a way to relate anything to a sense." and "all poems will create an image either directly or indirectly."

Let us contemplate on these opinions by looking through several examples, to see if "imagery" in terms of the definition we concluded in Chapter 1, is essential to the essence of poetry.

2-3: Example 1:


Let us start with an extreme example (since the above isn't in verse form, but rather a random set of symbols). We can come to an agreement at this point that this is not poetry, nor does it evoke any specific mental imagery, nor does it use figure of speech, nor does it "invent" correlations between differing elements.

2-4: Example 2:


Is this poetry? It is hard to grasp the boundaries of poetry, with so many literary perspectives differing in opinion on "what poetry should be", but if we are to hesitate, we can deduce that the above places itself on the periphery. If we go back to the beginning, the study of poetry (or poetics) started off as a branch of rhetoric studies (as seen in Aristotle's work "Poetics"), and thus poetry held the purpose of persuading the audience by looking closely at what and how verses are delivered.

As Aristotle claims, "the psychological and emotional makeup of those who will receive the proof" was an important factor, and thus he believed that the "character of the audience defined how the orator judges the context." Therefore the above "apple" may succeed in its deliverance to a certain group of readers, and thus cannot be judged as being poetry or not poetry.

Yet also, it cannot be denied here that the above example conjures a mental imagery within the reader of an "apple", although there are neither elaborate figures of speech involved, nor any "inventions".

2-5: Example 3:

When you visit or send e-mails to us, you are communicating with us electronically. You consent to receive communications from us electronically. We will communicate with you by e-mail or by posting notices on this site.

The above is not poetry. It is the Terms and Conditions of Yet the above can be said to be congruent with what has been studied  in the field of rhetoric, as it aims to persuade and deliver a context to a certain audience. Does it contain imagery? This is where difference arised among our participating deviantArt writers. Some would claim that this does not have imagery (as in "poetic imagery") and others would claim that even the above example conjures imagery (as in mental imagery), for example a mental image of yourself sending an e-mail to, or an abstract image of information being transferred to their servers.
As we can see, there are figures of speech involved (for example, "visit"; you do not actually physically "visit", but you are merely downloading electronic binary information onto your computer,) and having figures of speech, it inevitably "invents" a correlation between two trains of thoughts. Thus, we have here, all three elements of poetic imagery (i.e. mental imagery, figure of speech and "invention"), and yet, we do not have "poetry".

2-6: Example 4:

by e.e. cummings

a)s w(e loo)k
S         a
rIvInG .gRrEaPsPhOs)

Now, readers and critics consider this poem written by American poet e.e.cummings  as poetry (although because of its structure, many would disagree.) For those readers who come across the above example for the first time, this is not so much different from Example 1. It produces no mental image; it has no figure of speech and no "invention", and is a random set of symbols that can hardly be said to be "poetry".

What makes this "poetry", is in the unique way that words were used, not as a linear medium, but a spatial medium, much like a painting. As critic Norman Friedman explains, "[a]s the reader gropes and fumbles his way along this jumble of syllables and letters, his mind is gradually building up the connections which normally obtain among them--"grasshopper, who, as we look, now upgathering into himself, leaps, arriving to become, rearrangingly, a grasshopper." When the reader has reviewed the entire poem once or twice, he recreates in his mind the very effect of a grasshopper leaping, which Cummings is describing as upgathering, leaping, disintegrating, and rearranging. This effect is partially produced by the fact that the syllables of "grasshopper" are rearranged acrostically four times (including the normal spelling); partially by the distribution of parentheses, punctuation marks, and capitals; and partially by the joining, splitting, and spacing of words."

Another critic Max Nänny views lines 8-13 as a visual representation of the shape of a grasshopper, which has emerged from camouflage within the grass into sight.

Whether cummings is being overly smart, or extremely skillful is up to (as explained) the audience, but we can see now that this in fact embodies an extreme example of figure of speech and "invention", and thus mental imagery as well (as they are all related).

2-7: Conclusion

Now our definition of poetry becomes more complex. As seen in Example 2, the existence of mental imagery alone does not necessarily create a rhetorical context, and does not necessarily create a poem (although dependent on the audience; a select few may actually -although highly doubtful- consider this to be poetry.) As seen in Example 3, the existence of "imagery" (mental imagery, figure of speech and "invention") creates a rhetorical context, but they alone do not necessarily make that rhetorical context a poem. As seen in Example 4, the poetry can exist even though lacking a rhetorical context, yet the understanding of the "imagery" within a context becomes essential in recognizing poetry as poetry (this also depends on the audience).

If we organize these findings, we can see first of all, that poetry can be more than just "imagery". (We will leave the examination of different facets of poetry for future Poeticks compilations.) In addition, what we can say to the question "is a poem completely devoid of imagery possible?" is that in poetry, its written set of symbols (or words) must invariably conjure a "mental image" in the mind of the reader (in other words, the reader will "perceive" - in his own way - a mental image), and it must bear significance to the reader when the reader perceives a rhetoric context within the set of symbols (in other words, when the reader will "understand" - in his own way - what he has perceived), thus "poetry" by definition contains "poetic imagery" but only in terms of subjective individual perspectives of each audience.

Although this conclusion is something highly debatable (and we hope this will debated among the artists in the community; that is our objective), we may state it from a different angle by compromising the conflicting opinions in Chapter 2, stating that "poetry" without imagery can be created "by the writer", but "poetry" by definition will always create some sort of "imagery" within "the reader". (If not, it will not be accepted as poetry.) (We might add that whether those imageries inspire the reader ("I love this poem!") is yet a different matter altogether.)

Chapter 3: Example Poems with Imagery

If you have read this far, you deserve a half-time break.
With what we've examined concerning "imagery" in mind (no pun intended), have fun reading the following poems, and introspect and examine a) what kind of mental imagery have I created, reading this poem? b) did I feel the poem to be persuasive (or convincing in its imagery?) c) were there parts of the poem that didn't create any imagery (or I found difficult to image?, or was it just that I did not understand it?). Try reading in a new light.

Rupert Brooke: Dawn
Robert Frost: The Sound of Trees
A.E. Houseman: The Isle of Portland
Carl Sandburg: Eleventh Avenue Racket
Marianne Moore: Paper Nautilus…
Adrienne Rich: Diving into the Wreck:…
George Chapman: Homer's Odysseys…
Kingsley Amis : A Note on Wyatt
Shel Silverstein - Sick…
William Carlos Williams: The Red Wheelbarrow…


To Continue to "Poeticks: On Imagery" 2 of 3, click this…
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MinorKey's avatar
Very good. Again. I will read and take in.
Thank you.
Isiena's avatar
Wonderful. Exactly what I hoped for in a guide. I look foward to 2-3 of it all.

dreamheaven's avatar
Kangaroo's have joeys not cubs :)
naught101's avatar
well spotted :) was gonna say that myself ;)