Poetry and the Imagination

“Poetry has this power of getting straight through to the deeper level. . .  every time it happens, you become aware of the same splendid truth: that headache and the worry and the ‘thousand natural shocks the flesh is heir to’ are not an inescapable part of human existence.”

                                                   — Colin Wilson in Poetry and Mysticism


I’m using “poetry” here in the larger sense: not just poems, but created art in whatever form you do it, whether you’re a poet, a fiction writer, a teacher, a violinist, a weaver of baskets, a good parent, or whatever you do that requires art. I contend that the practice of our art is the one way of dealing with the world — of getting through this life.

William Blake wrote:

“Prayer is the Study of Art

Praise is the Practice of Art.”


He also wrote:

“I know of no other Christianity and of no other Gospel than

the liberty of both body & mind to exercise the Divine Arts

of Imagination.

I give you the end of a golden string

Only wind it into a ball:

It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate,

Built in Jerusalem’s wall.”


I don’t know what you’ve found. I find that my only way of making any sense of life is in putting words together. Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire said, “God made me fast, and when I run I feel His pleasure.” I think that certainly applies to us writers — or to you in whatever your Art or Poetry is, be it nursing or homemaking or volunteering.

Blake once more:

“As in your own Bosom you bear your Heaven

And Earth, & all you behold, tho it appears Without it is Within,

In your Imagination of which this World of Mortality is but a Shadow.”

See? The mortal world is the shadow. Without our capacity to imagine, where would we be? God made us in His image, and His image is the Creator, Who called worlds into being with “Let there be.” Tolkien wrote of sub-creation: our rearranging of the building blocks God gives us to create our little otherworlds. I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s when I’m happy: when I’m using my gifts to build something . . . when I’m living in the world of the imagination.

Anyway: Daylily (regular participant in this blog) readily answered the sonnet question last time, so let’s focus on her suggestion of the theme of gifts. You have a choice here, anyone who’d like to join in — you can:

1. Tell us about a wonderful/memorable gift you received.

2. Tell us about a gift you longed for, but never received.

3. Write your own version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” with a unifying theme (and please tell us what the theme is). (What would the song’s “true love” send to . . . a fantasy fiction writer? A teacher? A cyclist? A student? A musician?)

I’ll start us off with a trivial little example that will be easy for you to top:

One of my fondest memories of a childhood Christmas present is receiving a boxed set of Ray Bradbury books. For me at about age 10 or 11, that was the perfect Christmas present — all those stories packed in one little box, lavishly and intriguingly illustrated.

To this day, whether it’s Christmas or my birthday, no present makes me happier than a book. (Or booksssss!)

Quick childhood memory: at our family bookstore one year, we arranged letters on the electric sign in the window to read, “It isn’t Christmas without a book.” I was somewhere between 8 and 10 years old, and during that holiday season, my parents actually encouraged me to sit in the store window, on the triangular wooden stage, doing nothing but reading a book. (I was advertising, see? — “It isn’t Christmas without a book,” and here’s this life-sized kid sitting there avidly reading . . . see?) Well, more than once, I shifted positions slightly, and window-shoppers shrieked and jumped back. I guess they’d been thinking I was a mannequin. . . .

Happy New Year!


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11 Responses to “Poetry and the Imagination”

  1. Gabe Dybing Says:

    What synchronicity! I received a poem today from Everyday Poets, as I receive one every day, and I know I’m a terrible snob, but today I was reading along, yaddayaddayadda, and then was surprised that I was actually _hooked_ by the poem and then noticed that it was really, really good.

    Then I noticed that it was by Mr. Frederic S. Durbin and all made sense. So I had to come over here to tell him how great it was, and he’s writing about Poetry and Imagination. Perfect.

    How do you keep writing brilliant stuff all the time? Wonderful!

  2. I loved the Book Center Says:

    On Christmas Day of 1979 (I was 13 and in the 7th grade) I opened a gift from Fred — it was Watership Down. I still have the now well-thumbed paperback to this day and it remains the single best book I have ever read.

    My Ballentine paperbacks of The Hobbit, LOTR and The Silmarillion were also from the Book Center, as was Animal Farm, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, To Kill a Mockingbird and several others.

    Books are indeed great gifts.

    I am not the poetry fanatic so many contributors to this site probably are. I like Sandurg, Whitman and Frost, so I guess I am fairly generic. I do know this: I dislike nine of 10 poems I read. Guess I am pretty harsh, too.

  3. Chris Says:

    (I have to agree with “I loved the Book Center”. I am not a fan of poetry, but I am a bit more jaded. So I have written this Poem to express my feelings).

    On the Torments of Poetry:

    I am perhaps a bit more harsh

    in that I can think of almost no poets I actually enjoy reading.

    Even Bukowski isn’t as much fun to read as you might think for me.

    No amount of violence, alcohol or prostitution can render poetry better.

    Nor, sadly, worse.

    It is, perchance, the analytical aspect of my psyche.

    The thing I yearn for is either a “gut feel” or a “structure”.

    I almost never get a real “gut feel” from poetry.

    As for “structure”, well….

    I live in fear of this as I do for improvisational jazz.

    That unnamed fear is the fear that “a mistake can be made”.

    And I simply can’t figure out how one would “know”.

    And, on those days

    When “Free verse” I see (or similarly unstructured stuff)

    I get kind of itchy and angry.

    “WHY,” I shout to the heavens, “can someone do that and call it having ‘done’ something?”

    Don’t get me wrong, I like a clever turn of phrase.

    At least as much as the next person.

    But, as a friend of mine says: “Free verse poetry is tennis with the net down”.

    And sadly, for once I agree with this man who,

    As someone else said about him was clearly dropped on his head.

    As an infant.

    Rendering his aesthetic brain centers damaged.

    Perhaps, I too, am damaged.

    But at least I don’t have to read poetry.

    And please,

    Don’t get me started on “rhyming” poetry which I equate usually with nothing so intellectual as “limericks”.

    In endured too many hallmark card moments with rhyming poets to be able to enjoy that either.

    So I will off to the hinter lands.

    Where no poetry stands along my path to act as a stumbling block.

    To my greater appreciation of that which doesn’t rhyme or wasn’t written on separte lines as if to indicate some

    break in the


  4. I loved the Book Center Says:

    Fantastic Chris! Do you also find that most people who write poetry take themselves far too seriously, are convinced they have a talent the masses are dying to discover and love reading their own words far too much (wait — that makes them sports editors! Gad!)

  5. fsdthreshold Says:

    I agree with a lot of what you guys are saying about the pretentiousness of a great many poems and self-described poets. But let’s not miss the thrust of this posting: I was writing about Poetry in the larger sense — the purposeful, artful arrangement and deployment of skill.

    I agree that a grreeeaatt amount of “free verse” is the product of laziness, and just slapping all-but-unconsidered words onto a page doesn’t constitute poetry. And yes, “verse” can be equally disgusting. Anything in any discipline that’s very badly done is painful to watch. I think we all agree on that.

    Still — there is both rhyming poetry and free verse out there with tremendous power and beauty.

    I was raised by a mother who, by her own admission, was unabashedly biased toward the antique and archaic. As a kid, I naturally absorbed her belief that all the good poetry was written long, long ago, and that any poetry written after 1900 was garbage. Mom invariably used “modern” as a demeaning term.

    In my freshman year of college, my professor in a course called Understanding Literature changed all that. He single-handedly opened my eyes to the world of modern poetry, and I found much there to love. The first free-verse poem I can remember that knocked me off my chair was Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”

  6. Chris Says:

    I will make no such concession. I will fight the beret-bedecked poets whenever they come for me. I’ll hold out! I will! I’ll make my last brave stand as the throngs of Maya Angelouenos come for me. I’ll hide behind the mission walls as the hail of iambs come zinging in toward me! I will persevere!

    I will suddenly come out, sepia guns blazing, in the onslaught of the FIERCEST William Carlos Williams thrown at me. Even the Red Wheelbarrow!

    Yes, Fred, you can be Quisling for the Pentametric Forces as they attempt to invade your homeland. But as for me, I will stick with the Resistance! We will storm the Heavy Water Generation Facilities of Cinquain and, using 5 and 7-second timed fuses destroy the Haiku Machines!

    Never surrender!

  7. mileposter Says:

    This isn’t about poetry. If you like it, go to the link on my blog, on this site, and read some of mine. If you don’t, then don’t. You could also go to my prose link–I’m known as ‘Jornada.’

    It isn’t really about gifts, either. I long ago came to the conclusion that the giver was far more important than the gift. If you lose the giver, then the gift doesn’t do you a lot of good.

    It is about the C. S. Lewis concept of the Shadowlands, which is where we are living now, as compared to what Aslan (Christ) has in store for us when we’ve left the Shadowlands. Yes, with ouir God-given imagination, we can sometimes lift ourselves free of the mire of the Shadowlands. Sub-creation, as Tolkien called it, can be a blessed relief–or the sort of thing that Brahms wrote about some of his late piano pieces–“lullabies for my pain.” I’ve certainly found writing to be more and more helpful. Although I’ve enjoyed a year of writing poetry, it’s still chapters of my novel which I enjoy the most.

    I have more thoughts about this subject, which I plan to post on my blog. I hope I can get them up in time for anyone who wants to read them! 🙂

  8. Daylily Says:

    Thinking about the gifts and the giver . . . One of the most wonderful gifts I ever received was sent to me (by email) as a complete surprise on December 28, 2006. It was the text for a Christmas cantata. I hadn’t thought about writing a cantata for years, because I had no one to write me a text for a large work. Plus, how would I have the time to compose a large work? The author of the words sent me this text with the confidence that I could write the music. He did this on the basis of ONE text of his that I had set to music. One text. His confidence in me was the true gift. Or was it the timing, God’s timing, in that I had reached the point in my life that I could dedicate the next year to writing, rehearsing, and publicizing this cantata, comprised of ten individual compositions, for December 2007?

  9. mileposter Says:

    This is especially for Gabe, but also for anyone else who loves poetry, and especially Fred’s poetry. He wrote it for Groundhog Day last year, and I commented at the time that it was a shame he was writing novels instead of poetry, but I really can’t say that, because I like his novels too well! 🙂

    Here’s the link–it’s on AllPoetry.com:


  10. Jedibabe Says:

    Poetry (for me) is a personal production in which I feel God’s presence, a sense of oneness with all of creation. If I’m very lucky, others experience my creation and it expands this consciousness to consume them too.

    The activity itself is not the point; the perfection of joy is the point! As somewhat of a literary dimwit who seldom “gets” poetry, I have found that if I don’t get it, it is seldom the writer’s problem, but usually my own. If I want to understand something enough to give it space in my mind, it will eventually work its way into my heart, where I will “get” it, or something of value at least. Poetry, in the larger sense, is but the perfection of any job well done, be it a glorious and moving composition, a perfectly gleaming mopped floor, or a sensitive design for a wetlands restoration.

    When I design a landscape, recreating a system that will function as an environment must, I feel a kinship, a partnership with my creator, He who created us all, the ultimate environmentalist whose design ability I hope to emulate. We are but His shadow and we grow more like Him as we attempt to do His work, whether it be the poetry of a great friendship, an emotionally moving work of art, or the restoration of a degraded locale into a functional and aesthetically eloquent vista. If it moves us, it is poetry. And who wouldn’t agree to the perfect poetic justice of spending a snow day away from work, gliding across the slopes of a neighborhood wilderness!

    As for question 1, a wonderful/memorable gift:

    The greatest gift I ever received scared me when first I discovered it. My Grandmother gave me a yearling Shetland stud colt for Christmas. I was only four and didn’t even want a pony yet. But my parents had recently gotten into horses and so on Christmas morn, 1972 Santa left a small black horse tied to the bumper of my Dad’s big truck. I named this little creature “Shadow”. It took us several years to grow together, but it was he who helped to overcome my innate fear of life and tune in to my inner adventurer. By the time I was 9 I referred to him as my “angel”, and later my “Yoda”. Between kindergarten and high school I attended 18 different schools, and he was my constant, my true friend. He was the only one who saw me cry, kept all my secrets, and helped me find my way through both the darkness and the joys of this life. I still miss him, but now I thank God frequently for sending me a gift that taught me the true meaning of love.

  11. fsdthreshold Says:

    Wow, Jedibabe! I think I’ll just leave you the keys to this blog, and I’ll go to lunch! That was amazingly eloquent about what constitutes real poetry. That’s what I was trying to say–you said it a lot better!

    I also loved the story of Shadow.

    You’re one of the very few participants in this blog whom I don’t know personally, but I wish I did!

    Nor do I mean any slight to what the rest of you are saying–this is a great discussion, and my heartfelt thanks to everyone who’s taking part!

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