Using Hyperbole and Other Sensory Elements for Imagery in Poetry

Sensory use in poetryOver the past thirty years, poets have begun putting much emphasis on imagery. This is not to say imagery wasn’t important in the past, look at haiku’s popularity. Nonetheless, imagery has expanded so much that it virtually is the poem. Poets have recently spent their entire writing describing actions, scenery, and objects. It’s an interesting phenomenon and has brought about great works of art in the process. These poets are known as “imagists.” However, you don’t need to be an imagist in order to use at least some imagery in poetry. Actually, all poems should have at least a minuscule. It may be added through similes, metaphors, simple to complex descriptions, personification, hyperbole, and use of concrete words.

First, let’s discuss what imagery is. Imagery is the use of words and phrases to describe a place, a feature, an object, or an action. Imagery simply puts an image in the reader’s mind so they can picture whatever is being described. Essentially, it’s a way to use the reader’s entire sensory system: smell, taste, feel, sight, hearing.

Now that we have that settled, let’s talk about the different options we have for our descriptions.

Simile: A simile is the use of “like” or “as” when doing comparisons. For example, the woman’s hair writhed in the wind like an octopus’s tentacles in the open water.

We use similes when we want a quick and easy visual for the reader. It allows the reader to know the subject and imagine exactly what we want.

Example: Pablo Neruda’s Ode to Large Tuna in the Market comparing the tuna to “grieving arrow, sea-javelin, a nerveless oiled harpoon.”

Metaphor: A metaphor is a figure of speech that relates something to something else and highlights the similarities. An example is “All the world is a stage and all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances.” by William Shakespeare, “As You Like It”

Simple to complex descriptions: This is simply using regular adjectives and phrases to describe something. We may use simple adjectives like “big” or “giant” or we may use something more complex like “writhing” and “struggling”.

Personification: Personification is when a non-living thing or deity takes on actions and personalities of humans.

Example: William Blake’s The Clod and the Pebble giving human qualities to both the clod and the pebble.

Hyperbole: A hyperbole is making extreme exaggerations to describe something or put emphasis on something. Example The fish was this big! (With the speaker holding his arms out extremely wide)

Example: Billy Collins’ Afternoon with Irish Cows when speaking of the cows disappearing.

Concrete words: These are words that are easily visualized. Saying “beauty” doesn’t mean much of anything since it is a relative term. Instead, use concrete words to describe the beauty. Describe the curves, the wrinkles, the shape of the nose and ears.

Each of these imagery elements have their own uses and can greatly enhance almost any type of poetry.

Gary R. Hess

Gary was born and raised on a small farm in rural Kansas. Today, he is teaching various nationalities English in Southeast Asia. Get his newest poetry eBook here.

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