Saturday, October 14, 2006

Is Imagism Possible?

There's something alluring about the idea of Imagism. It's so "in the moment." This practice, based on Impressionist painting, relies on change. Light affects the look of a leaf, the shadow on a face. Each visual element changes minutely, minute by minute. Is it possible to take this visual concept and overlay it onto an act of creation locked in its own medium and dependent upon the author's diction?

Is it neurologically possible? Visually possible? Verbally possible?

Even its first theorist, T.E. Hulme knew that any attempt to arrest the visual/cerebral perception and make it become live with a chain of words was a supremely difficult venture.

Imagism in theory is as much a reliance on the eye as is painting. Imagism was a concept that attempted to transfer the craft and ideology of a visual art to a written art. Impressionism was the bedrock. Hulme argued that applying a formal scheme to the new "Impressionist poetry" was all wrong. It would be "cramping, jangling, meaningless, and out of place." Thus, the preference for free verse arrived.

Imagism was a sight-driven theory of poetry. Both Hulme and Pound theorized about their concepts of Imagism from the perspective of the visual. "Poetry is an affair of the body," said Hulme. "Each word must be an image seen..." But right there is the conflict: how can a visual perception - and one that is constant for its fleeting quality - be transferred in an immediate moment to the written word? It's a challenge. An ideal. But is it possible?

"The Imagist strains to recover an image of an object, or a place, in perpetual flight." The struggle that Anne Compton thus described is like Sisyphus pushing his boulder. But the poet cannot grasp the boulder with her eyes and then try to push it with her pen.

Pound got it right when he said: "Impressionism belongs in paint, it is of the eye." The same can be said of Imagism. It is at best an attempt.

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