December 6, 2015

Embracing Abstraction

I have been trying to write poetry. This is rare. I consider myself more of a fiction writer, memoirist, and literary critic. Nevertheless, I have been writing poetry lately. After I shared a first attempt with my wife, she introduced me to a poem, "Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota," by James Wright. You should read it. Such a wonderful poem. My wife shared it with me because she thinks it demonstrates an important use of the concrete image, irrespective of genre: fiction, poetry, memoir. Wright's poem is a series of stark, beautiful images. For the majority of the poem, it "shows" rather than "tells." However, it completely changes strategy in the last line, which is "I have wasted my life," an abstraction. This is the idea of the poem that the images outline. Sometimes I get frustrated with too concrete literary aesthetics. Current wisdom in creative writing pedagogy is avoid abstraction at all costs. But with this poem, the abstraction is fully embraced. What an interesting move.