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The Mind’s Eye

  • Posted on January 21, 2011 at 8:26 PM

I am currently taking a course on writing poetry.  Writing poetry is how I gained my teachers’ interests in my writing ability when I was in grade school.  The first piece I had published for pay was a poem.  While I want to improve my understanding of poetry forms and improve my craft, I’m not under-confident in my ability to write poetry.

So, it was a surprise when I read the following passage from my textbook:

At the pedagogical heart of this book is the notion that no matter what kind of poetry anyone wishes to write (whether it’s free verse, narrative, formal, spoken word, ect.), a poet must paint a picture in the mind’s eye of the reader.

(The Mind’s Eye by Kevin Clark, 2008, pg. xii)

Furthermore, Kevin Clark relates imagery—a writing device used to evoke sensory experience in writing—directly to the experience of a mind’s eye.

You might be asking: What’s the big deal?

Well, to be entirely blunt, had I read a statement like that when I was in middle school, I would never have tried to write poetry.  Had I read it in high school or in the first five years after I graduated high school, I would never have written the poem that I had published.  Why?  Because my mind has no eye.  I don’t see images in my mind.  I cannot call up an image of my children’s face by mental will power, let alone imagine an image of something I’ve never seen. 

As this textbook is written, Kevin Clark assumes “the mind’s eye” is a universal experience.  It may be a common experience, but it’s not universal.  By relating the mind’s eye to effective imagery, he risks alienating anyone who doesn’t experience mental pictures.  Someone like me.

It is incorrect to assume that because I do not experience mental picture that I cannot this read, write, or evoke imagery.  Imagery is an important writing tool, but the mind’s eye is not the only way to experience it.  I don’t think in pictures; I think exclusively in words, emotions, and ideas.  Written imagery translates words into images in the mind’s eye; my mind requires no such translation.  Visual imagery, on the other hand, requires translation for me.  For example, impressionism is an artistic genre that I require translation to understand, and often cannot appreciate.

I’m sure I’ll find Kevin Clark’s book useful.  In fact, I already have.  However, there’s a risk of alienation when a person in authority assumes a common experience is universal, and then leaps to connect that common experience with the way to do something.  Clark made this mistake. 

I proved to myself I could write effective poetry before I ever read this book.  I also gained an understanding of myself as a neurodiverse individual, and have learned not to accept the limits others try to attribute to my abilities.  (Which is entirely different from recognizing and accepting my own limitations.) 

While Clark’s assumption will not alienate me from poetry, I worry that it might prevent others who experience sensory impressions the way I do from writing poetry.  I imagine that if I had been more vulnerable to the author’s influence—because I was less sure of my own potential—I might have foregone my poetic goals as unattainable.