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How to Write Poetry Using the Healing Power of Images - Markings 147

The sixth in a series of writing poetry as a way of healing.

The Healing Power of Images

A morning glory at my window satisfies me more than the metaphysics of books.

—Walt Whitman

Images are drawn from sensory experience and help us to feel what the writer or speaker is communicating. Whitman is more satisfied by the morning glory because it is real and alive, it communicates something to him about reality that is particular, clear and unmistakable. Images offer us direct experience. They can show themselves to us through any of the senses.

I ask people to imagine themselves standing at a busy intersection in their town or city—or to recall any other place of activity that is part of their daily routine. As they settle into imagining this street corner (or whatever place they have chosen) I invite them to describe, as precisely as they can, the images and direct sensations they experience.

People begin to speak. Some voices are strong, others cautious. Unique rhythm and sound is heard in each voice, in a chorus of sense and sound:

The smell of new fallen rain glimmering upon the leaves of wan city trees. The dark rumbling sound of trucks. The persistent wings of pigeons. Vibrations trilling in the soles of my feet. A frail and disoriented man bent over in ragged brown, baggy clothes pushing a Safeway shopping cart stuffed full of blue plastic bags. People swooping by him. Steam rising lazy and hot through a grate on the busy sidewalk. A balding, short, worried-looking man in a rumpled business suit, impatient for the stoplight to change, grasping at a Styrofoam cup of steaming coffee. Announcement flyers, colours running, stapled around a rutted telephone pole. A freckled energetic and happy redheaded high school girl in a plaid Catholic school uniform with a W on her tight sweater holding a load of books in her arms. The sound of a revving

bus engine, exhaust rising in a billowing black veil of odour, the brief, cool leftward glance of the hefty bus driver as he pulls into traffic. Sunlight glints diamond like off an older woman’s fancy sunglasses as she sits in her red sports car at the stoplight.


Capturing Images

This exercise reveals the threefold healing potential of image making: the power of an image to evoke creative response; the capacity of images to serve as containers of feeling; and the capacity of images to inspire a voice for your feelings.

How the days went

while you were blooming within me

I remember each upon each—

the swelling changed planes of my body

and how you first fluttered, then jumped

and I thought it was my heart.

—Audre Lorde

Remembering Childhood Images

Make a list of images you remember from childhood or youth. Among the images that arise, choose those that hold positive memories. Let your images appear effortlessly in your mind’s eye. Treat them like snapshots you might look through after many years. Start with simple images.

We will work with more painful and difficult images later on in the chapter. The purpose of this exercise is to use images to awaken creativity and tune in to the feelings about your life.

What sensations do you experience recalling your image? Recall your sensations at the moment of experience: smell, taste, touch, sight, hearing. Absorb the image into your body— feel as if you are reliving that remembered image. Focus your image in your mina’s eye; “catch it” whole. Describe your experience quickly, let words flow, give detail. Here is an example:

Opening a large box in our backyard apple orchard. . . bright sun shines down, the blue jay with the hurt wing is inside. I fed and cared for it. . . now will it fly away? Box is layered with grass, sticks and shrivelled leaves of lettuce. I am five years old. l am standing close to an apple tree in summer. Dense narrow branches wind up to the sky. The apple tree is small but lam smaller. Talons of the nervous blue jay scratch jittering sounds on the cardboard. I open the large and wobbly box and wait. The blue sky is also waiting for the large blue jay to fly—and she does—into the apple tree.

©Jeff Guess 2019


Writing Poetry

A Creative Writing Course in 8 Units.

Please consider my ‘Writing Poetry’ course. Eight units that cover every aspect of writing poetry with an anthology of exemplars and examples. In addition, a whole host of writing activities and assignments. It is a stimulating and absorbing course and will takes you from the basics to proficiency. Suitable for senior school students, adults and undergraduates.

A modest fee applies.

For further information, please visit

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