How to Create Haunting Imagery

Looking for a way to spark your writing with imagery? Here’s a great suggestion from Sheila Bender. Though the exercise is taken from her book Writing Personal Poetry, any writer can put it to use. Bender writes:

Recently I was standing on a hillside I had looked at years ago from a window at a writers conference. At that conference, I learned a useful exercise from my teacher Robert Hass, who went on to become the United States poet laureate. At the time, he was studying various culture’s poetry using a book called Technicians of the Sacred. In Africa, he taught us, a tribe called the Bantu has an oral poetic tradition they exercise while working. One person says a line and, in the rhythm of the work, another answers with an assocaition that shows the likeness between two objects or perceptions. “An elephant’s tusk cracking” could get the response, “The voice of an angry man.” That day, I looked at the hillside, saw wind in the grass and wrote, “Wind through the grass,” and answered with the line, “I have the feeling you have written.” Here are two-line bantus that students of mine have written in response to this exercise:
Wire hangers on a bar in the closet
Wild geese walking by a lake

Children in a circle on the floor
The beaded necklace

Lizard rustles the jasmine leaves
Father turning pages of “The Sunday NY Times”

The full moon at midnight
China dinner plate in a dark kitchen

Write your own bantus, as many as you can. Try to evoke experiences of sound, taste and smell as well as touch and sight. This exercise is very much like metaphor and simile, but you are free of the need to make images grammatically correct and the results can be haunting.

Read more about Writing Personal Poetry by Sheila Bender.

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