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Bewildering Stories

Challenge 626 Response

Bewildering Stories discusses...

Picture Poetry

with James Shaffer

In Oonah V. Joslin’s “Meandering Through Monet’s Garden at Giverny”:

  1. The poem is carefully structured. How might it take the form of a “meander”?
  2. In the line “How many hours did you spend forming those flowers,” whom is the poet addressing: Monet or Esme?

[James S.] To structure the poem to fit the act of meandering, the length of the lines could be changed. Rather than broaden regularly from a line of three words to the ten-word line at the end, the length of the lines could be staggered. The reader could be forced to move at a rather uneven pace through the poem. For the sake of illustration, I’ll restructure the poem below:

I often imagine that’s me,
walking towards the jade bridge
by the deep turquoise stream
under the hanging purple of wisteria
beside those pastel tulips,
green leaf spears,
intricately knotted in silk ribbon on painted silk.
How many hours did you spend
forming those flowers just so I could
imagine myself meandering through a Monet?

I believe the poet is addressing Esme but, at the same time, the scene from the poet’s imagination, set as it is in Monet’s garden, suggests the same fond impression of the flowers that Monet expressed in his many paintings.

If I understand it correctly, I also believe that Esme made something for the poet. A scene of Monet’s garden on painted silk with knotted flowers suggests perhaps a stitchery or sampler. The depicted scene evokes the images the poet expresses.

[Don W.] Thank you, James. I hadn’t thought there might have been a gift of, perhaps, embroidery. It’s a sweet idea!

“Meandering” by varying line lengths can be done in any number of ways, of course. Making line breaks at the end of phrases is considered orthodox at BwS, if only because keeping thought groups intact makes poems easier to read than they would be otherwise. The poet may have wanted to avoid going that route, for reasons of her own.

Ekphrastic poetry is usually accompanied by an illustration, to give the readers an idea of what the poet is talking about. That might be hard to do in “Meandering Through Monet’s Garden.”

If the image were floated right, the increasing line lengths would widen the page uncomfortably. Placed at the top, the image would put a visual lid on the poem. At the bottom, the image would look like a giant footnote.

Guillaume Apollinaire, especially, is known for writing calligrammes, poems that take the form of images. They’re quite fanciful and pretty.

The effect is practically impossible to duplicate in a word processor. Even using varied spacing and fonts, “ascii art” looks comically mechanical; that’s why it’s always been little more than a typographical cartoon. A scanned image of a handwritten text would look natural. However, it would also risk being illegible unless it were very carefully drawn.

But maybe the poet did have an image in mind and gave the poem a visual form of its own. To me, it looks like a shoe. What better equipment for meandering through a garden?!

Copyright © 2015 by James Shaffer
and Bewildering Stories

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