Friday, December 19, 2008

Show ... Tell ...

A friend trying to craft poetry came to me and expressed his frustration. "Everyone says to me," he complained, "show, don't tell. But if I show people, don't I tell? If I tell people, don't I also show? So explain to me: what's it all about then?"

I did my best, using this analogy.

You obtain a wonderful painting that moves you so much that you want to share it with all your friends. How are you going to do this? You could write a description of it; list the colours used, the figures portrayed; you might even remark on the use of light, proportion. You create a description as close to what you see as you possibly can and send it to your friends. Some close friends you might even gather together, and present your material in a lecture, with slides. Everyone knows, or should, as much about the painting as you now. You have shared it. You made it a point to TELL them all about it.

Now suppose you hang that painting on a living room wall, by itself without distractions, and illuminate it with a source that highlights it. You invite everyone to see your painting, then retire to the kitchen to supervise the refreshments. The visitors are left to themselves to experience or study your painting according to their own interpretations, take in the details that matter to them, and also keep your opinions out of their enjoyment. You simply SHOW it to them.

And that is how a poem should work. It should start with your personal reaction. If all you want to do is present a series of facts with your own impressions, write an op ed piece for the newspaper. If you want to use language and its wondrous intricacies to elicit a similar response in your reader/listener, untainted by your explanation, you might be able to present it as a poem.

A poem is like a painting in that respect. It uses different materials, but exists to elicit that individual response And not necessarily the one you expect.

1 comment:

annaken said...

Good Morning Jefferson,

Ah, how true that is! I remember the poem you wrote about the little group we both belong to and sent it to Mary A. You were actually writing about our little group but she interpreted it as being about the Whitehern family ladies!

I found that quite interesting that she did that. It is a perfect example of what you have said in this little blog!