Erin's Poetry Tips

40 tips to poetry and poetry forums

Monday, April 11, 2005


Show it, don’t tell it

1. A set of mental pictures or images.
2. The use of vivid or figurative language to represent objects, actions, or ideas.
3. The use of expressive or evocative images in art, literature, or music.
4. A group or body of related images, as in a painting or poem.

Poetic Definition
The sensory detail (not just visual) in a literary work. It also refers more specifically to figures of speech like metaphor or simile which produce mental images for the reader.

Imagery is one of the most powerful devices in poetry. (so powerful in fact that psychologists have been using it for years as a technique of behavior therapy, where the patient is encouraged to visualize a pleasant fantasy to overcome certain anxieties) It’s used to paint a picture for the reader, as a way to involve them, envelope them in the art you paint with your words. It’s an integral part of the process of poetry; without strong, vivid images, your poem becomes second-hand, and holds much less impact.

A poem without strong imagery is like a handbook, dry and straight-forward, without illustrations, insert Tab A into Slot B type writing.

It’s what’s referred to as “telly”.
It’s lines like,

“The tree was red and orange in Autumn.”
versus lines like
“The forest erupted in flame under an Autumn sun.”


“He was depressed”
“The frigid crevasse of infidelity threatened to rend his soul in two”


“The old paper felt rough in his hand”
“A hundred years of history were hidden in the wrinkles of this document,
and transferred into his curious palm.”

You can see how much more engaging a vivid image can be.

Reading a poem should be less of a reading and more of an experience. It’s one of the main characteristics of poetry. Your job as a writer of poetry is to engage the reader, make him feel as though he’s inside the poem.
You want him to feel it, to smell and hear it, you want him to walk away with the images splashed across his mind in permanent ink.


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