“Poetry is the art of creating imaginary gardens with real toads.” – Marianne Moore
I could not agree more! A good poem, a real poem, a poem that shakes us, mauls us, delights us, enchants us, must be a poem that escorts us in, all the way in, to the heart of the poet’s heart. And to do that, the poem must find a way to take words and turn them into images, to take images and turn them into a reality that we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. In order for poetry to speak to us of things we need to know, it must appeal to all of our senses, and it must touch us emotionally, as well.
If I were to say to you, “I went to the beach, and it was beautiful,” you might get a fleeting image of the ocean, the sand, the sky and find it pleasing. But to transport you to the beach, I need to bring you there on a sensory level. I need to be there myself, in the poem, on a sensory level. For example:
The ocean owns
I taste its salt
I hear its song
I feel its foamy spray
I watch the sunbeams
Tease the waves
And love its restless play
I smell the salty fragrance
Of the water on the air
And know no matter
Where I roam my heart
Is always there.
The poem has a responsibility to not only show you something but to draw you in, all the way in, until you too become part of the experience. But poems are not only meant to paint pictures, they are meant to mean something, something unique, to you. And here’s the interesting thing, they don’t have to mean to you, what they meant to the poet who wrote them. As a reader, you bring your own experiences and memories to the poem. A really good poem may mean something different to everyone who reads it, and none of those meanings have to be what the poet was feeling when the poem was written.
The quote from Marianne Moore, that “poetry is the art of creating imaginary gardens with real toads” expresses simply and eloquently the requirement that poetry be more than words on paper. Poems must be real – “real toads” – wet and wriggling, alive and breathing. In other words, good poetry, real poetry has a beating heart.
I invite you to share with me a poem you’ve written about the sea, the mountains, a valley or forest you’ve visited and remember, and long to return to. Using your five senses and your emotional sense, bring me there – let me feel what you felt – let your poem be filled with “real toads.”