The Work of These Fingers

By Matt Gano, WITS Writer-in-Residence

The Center School is full of deep thinkers and creative minds. The pumps are primed and these kids are ready to write. To help build our creative approach I like to introduce themes that work as an arc throughout the semester. Mary Oliver writes, “…poetry imaginatively takes place within the world, it does not take place on a sheet of paper.” Using this quote as a springboard, the first practicing approach I throw out to my students is the idea that poetry is an “expression of the body.” I use this concept in combination with Mary Oliver’s stance as a backbone to constructing effective metaphor and developing creative ideas that are grounded in concrete imagery.

When we speak of the notion that poetry is an “expression of the body,” we talk about our sensory perceptions and our physical relationship to the world. We talk about translating our emotional experience, which most often lives in an abstract realm, into the physical by making connections to objects that imply our meaning. To take this a step further, we discuss how our own individual experiences with abstract emotions (love, hate, fear, etc.) can be understood universally through specific connections to the body. Here, Leiya F. shows us exactly how powerful-truths can be explored in this way in an excerpt from her poem, “The Work of These Fingers”:

“When my thumb accepts you,
I let the sun know
that you have done
the deed of a saint.
I point down to the dirt you are less
than when you have forced hot coals
in my eyes from your sin.

I show this finger to silence the solid voices that slam, scratch, and slaughter
the air of this empty room.
I use this to beckon to the little girl who is pointed camouflage in the clean
grass and muddy filth of people that make her pliant.

I throw this exotic symbol to say “Screw you” to middle the people
who think they can use my body to fit their voice and use their voice over
Enough said.”

Moving through this concept, students are encouraged to look for other surprising ways that imagery can take form. By grounding our abstract thoughts, ideas, and emotions in the physical we become translators of experience. We discuss the idea that one of the important jobs of the poet is to find new ways of showing our emotions, to SHOW our truth by finding the right image. Here, Bryce G. shows us how this works in a excerpt from her poem, “A Symphony of Magnificence”:

“Her song is different
a pot of churning tunes
bubbling melodies
Her dreams are a symphony of sounds
an orchestra playing in harmony
something Beethoven mixed with Baroque
but as the last note
slides off a gleaming harpsichord

auto tune kicks in

to a pop singers sugary voice
as the base in the background
fades away
to the plucking of a guitar
and the crooning of the blues
Her smile is a sad folk singer


into a tenor
bellowing out a song
wonderfully off key
he sings about a piano playing up a thunderstorm
like no other”

Doing this work early on in the first semester helps to lay a foundation for strong writing and imagistic depth. As we move further into the art of creative writing, having students understand connective imagery and the concept of translating experience helps to shift approach and train their imaginations to consider the transformative ability of metaphor and imagery as a powerful tool. With this little notch in their belt, they are one step closer in exploring their writing voices and honing their individual styles.


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