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Many poets use images. What makes a poet an Imagist?

Michael Heffernan, professor of English in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, replies:

All poets use images. An Imagist would be someone writing according to the method known as Imagism, which was the most important movement in American poetry about 100 years ago. What Imagism was can hold true for poetry today that uses physical sense details for its primary effects.

Imagism was influenced by Ezra Pound, who defined the images as “that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time.” See Pound’s 1918 essay “A Retrospect.” in Literary Essays of Ezra Pound from New Directions.

Pound’s ideas defined “what makes a poet an Imagist.”

His two-line ‘In a Station of the Metro’ is the essential imagist poem:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
Personae: Collected Shorter Poems of Ezra Pound (Faber: 1952)

The faces of people in a crowded Paris Metro station are perceived as petals on a wet black bough.  The faces and the petals comprise a physical event that has emotional weight. How the poet felt about the apparition of the faces can equal the experience of petals seen on a limb in spring after a rain.

For Pound, the whole image in the poem presents “a complex” instantaneously, which give the sense of sudden liberation; that sense of freedom from time limits and space limits; that send of sudden growth, which we experience in the presence of the greatest works of art.” (See Pound’s “A Retrospect.”)

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