Imagination in Transition

As we have evolved, so has our imaginative ability. Imagination is the one unique ability that we have as human beings to invite new possibility. We can conjure up and even make real completely different worlds. It is linked to our creativity and our capacity as humans to travel to different places and away from our ordinary lives. Imagination is most likely born from the desire to escape mediocrity or unfulfilled dreams.

As modern and contemporary art and poetry has changed and transformed from the old tradition of Romanticism, the hope of any piece of art is to inspire in others an ability to experience what the artist is trying to portray.

The legacy of the Romantic era has endowed us with great knowledge of our history, both culturally and globally. From its tradition, style, mood, and form, it gives us a strong foundation to work with. 

This transition from one form of expression to another moves the observer of a particular piece of art to engage with and embrace the intention of the artist, be it visual art, dance, drama, music, or poetry. In taking us through our senses and imagination into participation with their creativity, it invites us to engage with depth rather than just observe. It is not so much that we have defamiliarised ourselves with old forms, it is more a reengaging with old forms in a new way.

Art and poetry have always held the possibility of new hope. Through reflection, or simply just feeling a resonance with the rhythm of words, ordinary things find a new voice.

 The continuous advance of our culture, the idea of a global village, and the accessibility to other cultures, particularly through internet and social media, has become an enriched and diverse landscape for inspiration.

Development in science and technology, the accomplishments of the feminist movement and gender equality, and the gradual collapse of patriarchal structures has also influenced progression. Our illusions around institutions, which served as a foundation for meaning, principally religious structures, have left us resourcefully seeking meaning at a deeper level.

Throughout history, in any revolution, or collapse of empire, art never failed to serve us. Creativity never dies – as humans exist, so does the muse. ‘Imagination is everything’, but it also must be nourished and steered.

The danger is that we often forget the wisdom of our past as we pursue the Holy Grail. We are at risk of allowing technology to do our thinking for us – science to find every solution to fix problems, and material gain to meet our desires. 

Our evolution has reinvented poetic forms. The interplay of words and sound, the interchange of how the senses are activated, and how words are expressed, has evolved. Poetry has always addressed issues such as love, beauty, death, loss, relationships, religion, and nature. The expression of these core issues has changed from the tradition of end rhyme and structure to internal rhyme and sound pattern. This invites more spontaneity and less reflective illusion.

The use of language as a medium to express something in and through words became inventive and accessible. It became fresh in its endeavors to pioneer views developing out of the core issues associated with poetry, like a love poem including sexuality or gender. It gives permission to name real life issues.

Our world of desire, if focused too much on the material, can leave numinous qualities associated with the soul and our inner world, such as image and symbolism, undervalued. The present movement, where all art forms seek to embrace each other’s similarities, in rhythm, tone, and pattern, rather than their differences, is a transition and move towards a new form of art. Yet it holds its own individuality. We now have more personal choice and a new appreciation.

The feminist movement was pivotal in this. Women began to analyse that everything in gender difference was about power, sexual power; they began to have a voice. Their literature addressed and challenged the structures of patriarchy and society in areas of inequality such as sexual issues, employment, and education. Prior to this movement, women writers of literature and poetry were not recognised, as men were. History shows that it was mainly men whose work was published. The women’s movement liberated women in literature to gain recognition.

Twentieth-century female writers brought depth to literature; prior to this women’s concerns were not seen to be as grave or important as men’s. The fact that women’s concerns relate more to intuition and the world of inner experience, emotion, and relations, is what has emerged through the transition into contemporary poetry.

The consequence of this is that a broader imagination became accessible, one in which the reader could experience and perceive the poem through the images they had observed in the rhyme or sound pattern. It stimulated the imagination and allowed more room for a person’s imagination to be drawn in to see their own picture.

One poem I have chosen to reflect the value of having access to the female voice in poetry is a poem by Katie Donovan.

The Electrician Says

That he has nine children:

one disabled, one a girl,

That his father was disinherited-

and a wife diabetic.

for love- that this new lark

of working for himself

has failed to thrive.

And yes, he knows what it’s like,

living with illness

and hospital visits.

All the caring 

he’s done for his son,

the injections. And can he

come up this evening to get paid

as it’s nearly the end of the month?


The poet explains in a Bio that the inspiration to write this poem came from the conversation with the electrician who asked after her ill husband.

In this poem, the poet takes a very ordinary conversation and experience in life, a simple exchange with a workman, and transforms it to show what life can be like for us.

The poet evokes the thing in us, that piece where somehow we can’t or don’t want to hear other people’s pain. She possibly makes us want to think and reflect about why we do this?

Katie Donovan put words on an experience we all have at some time or another, a subtle experience. What could be more ordinary? From this, she takes the ordinariness of their interaction. He asked about her husband’s health and then launches into a litany of his own troubles. Using something that is ingrained in us as humans, a response to hearing about difficulties by identifying and naming one’s own problems. We all know this experience. 

Her observation in her outer world became inner-world reflections that transforms into a thought-provoking image for the reader. She draws us out of the immediate outer world and into reflection.

This evolution of poetry and literature, and its liberation, supported male writers to fuse their own inner world into their writing. As the form of poetry changed, the expression from male writers changed with it, giving permission for the reader to engage in a deeper imagination.

The second poem I have chosen to reflect this is a poem by Gary Snyder:


Boulders at night, it stays

It comes blundering over the

Frightened outside the

Range of my campfire

I go to meet it at the

Edge of the light

The poet’s choice of title is of interest to anyone curious to understand how one writes poetry. It is an immediate engagement with curiosity. The poem speaks of how an inner-world experience translates to an outer experience; in the synchronicity of explaining how a poem arrives, the poem is being written. This evokes the image of a poem arriving to the writer as the poem arrives to us. While reading, one is engaged in the arrival. This is a terrific use of imagination. Gary Snyder uses capitals on particular words to create emphasis and affect, ignoring traditional punctuation and form, this however does not take away from the poem, because we are able to understand his intention through the strength of the images percieved.

Strong metaphors and words like blundering, and Boulders, give a powerful visual image of something robust and irresistible. Night gives us the image of the dark, so we hear how a poem comes with great strength and force from the darker places of ourselves. Words like frightened present us with an image of something delicate, which must be tended to with care. How do we behave around something frightened? We empathise, hopefully, and try to be calm, relaxed, while we leave a space to invite it forward. Like a deer in the forest, calm and composed, but we know the slightest, unexpected movement causes them to bolt.

Here we see the similarity and difference in how two poets express their imagination. Katie Donovan takes an external situation, and uses her internal world of imagination and reflection to present to us a snippet of how our ordinary daily life can open our imagination. Gary Snyder explains an inner process of how his imagination takes form, and presents it to us with metaphor and images that relate to our external world.

I was never so happy when my eldest son came to me with a poem by Seamus Heaney – When all the others were away at Mass – to tell me it reminded him of moments with me. Ten years later I had the same experience with my second son. He was also studying Seamus Heaney’s poem.

When I trained as a nurse over thirty years ago, one of the subjects we had to study was An appreciation of Art. This included, literature, drama, paintings from all genres, and music. While the foundation and traditional techniques are important, one would wonder if a class such as what was compulsory back then, would not bring an additional inspiration. I am aware appreciation of art is included in teaching and relative to the teacher.

 Contemporary poetry reflects the depth of awareness that has evolved in our culture. It tackles and addresses challenging topics in ordinary accessible language. Its primary consideration views our world with a new attitude, engaging the reader in the experience. It allows their own images and imagination to emerge from the rhythm and sound of the words as they present to the reader. It evokes a transcendent space, which may enlighten or even introduce a reflection in the relationship between the poem and the reader, and the flow of images in the imagination between both.

Attracta Fahy

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