High School Poets: Rich in Image

High School Poets: Rich in Image

By Emily Bedard


Not long ago I found myself looking for a way to avoid some sticky poem revisions I didn’t know how to tackle. So, I picked up an essay on poetics by Robert Hass instead and read the opening description of the author looking at the Vermont countryside, covered in snow. Hass didn’t see snow until he was a young adult, he explains. And that is why the landscape is “permanently strange and vivid to me….Because it does not belong to childhood, it calls up no longing.”


When I read that, I felt a sudden insight into why my recent high school WITS class on image had turned out such acutely effective poems. Although I am regularly blown away by my students’ writing, I am also aware that there are many elements they are not masters of, especially in the context of 20-minute first drafts. Their lines are vulnerable to cliché (like the rest of ours) and their thinking can get squishy (like the rest of ours) and their syntax sometimes falls apart in the rush to get to the big moment (much like the rest of ours). But one thing they nail on a regular basis is image. Crisp image. Moving image. Wildly odd image. Their poems are full of them.


I like to point out to my students that although there are many things they cannot do—driving, voting, running for Congress, buying controlled substances—making killer images is not on the list. Just by virtue of reaching the age of 15, they have hundreds, if not thousands, of images at the ready. We talk about each writer’s store of images as an invisible atmosphere surrounding the physical body. When we pick up a pen, we are harvesting them, plucking a sensory impression out of the cloud and setting it down to see how it fares and where it leads.


But until this point, I’ve been thinking of these high school writers as being rich in image in spite of the fact that they are young. After reading Hass’ description, I began to wonder if perhaps it’s actually because they are young. Maybe their very proximity to childhood is what makes their imagery so searing and brilliant, so full of the longing that the adult Hass does not feel when he looks at the Northeastern woods. Maybe that’s what makes them able to write like this:


Have you ever seen the mirror break, with you

in front of it, the little jagged triangles and

slivers separated

by canals, tiny

rivers of change,

your face transformed into an

abstract painting by

a single touch

—Kierra  N.


Or this:


The pond surrounding

Was filled with fish

Shining like keys reflecting light


—Nate S.


Or this:


My feelings and words are jumbled

Like a Rubik’s cube all turned about

With flashes of red and yellow

Amidst seas of blue and green


—Ira R.


Or, breathtakingly, like this:


I paddle my feet back


And forth.

Light erupts

Like millions of polished diamonds,

Like a car’s blinding brights.


I remember

How the night sky is hooked between my toes.


—Hanna B.


I don’t know if I am right in my theory, and the truth is, it’s not really important if I am, except in one regard. If I am, then where young writers may otherwise feel their age to be an impediment, here it is a catalyst. If they believe in their freshness, their newness, their emergent eye as an artistic advantage, they might make more art. That would be good for us all.


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