Friday, January 28, 2011

The Perfect Equation

Today I am thinking about those early inspirations that sparked in me a love of words and a desire to write. In elementary school I loved books by Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume and Farley Mowat. By high school, I was inspired by Margaret Atwood, J.D. Salinger, and Albert Camus. In my first year of university, I took a course called British and American Poetry and Fiction. My favourite unit focused on the Imagists, a group of poets (between 1912 and 1917) who strived for clarity and exactness in trying to capture single images in as few words as possible. I have probably read Ezra Pound’s poem, “In a Station of the Metro” over a hundred times since taking that class. Every time I return to it, I am as inspired as I was the first time I read it:

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Pound shared some of his thoughts behind the creation of this poem:

“Three years ago in Paris I got out of a "metro" train at La Concorde, and saw suddenly a beautiful face, and then another and another, and then a beautiful child’s face, and then another beautiful woman, and I tried all that day to find words for what this had meant to me, and I could not find any words that seemed to me worthy, or as lovely as that sudden emotion. And that evening, as I went home along the Rue Raynouard, I was still trying and I found, suddenly, the expression. I do not mean that I found words, but there came an equation . . . not in speech, but in little splotches of colour.” (Gaudier-Brzeska: A Memoir 1916; London: New Directions, 1960): 86-89).

The idea of an ‘equation’ makes me think about how language, when referring to emotion or image, is a kind of translation. But Pound is speaking about ‘equation’ here. These words = this emotion. Getting that equation right, is where all the work lies. The poet cannot rest until the perfect equation of words is found.

Or sometimes it is sudden. “I was still trying and I found, suddenly, the expression .” I love how Pound used the word ‘suddenly’ and how he was able to cut through all the excess in language to see the ‘splotches of colour’ that perfectly equated with the image or emotion he experienced earlier in the day.

What are the poems or books you return to again and again for inspiration?

Poetry Friday Roundup is here.


  1. A hundred times! That is devotion. I do like the imagists, too, and like Pound's pointing toward the splotch of color.

    Then rereading some of Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey on Kelly Fineman's blog reminded me of a high school devotion to those romantics, that I return to from time to time.

  2. It's interesting how some words "stick" and others don't. I first loved Raymond Carver poems and return to them from time to time... also Khalil Gibran. I think I could plot out my life in poetry. :) Thanks for sharing this one!

  3. I must check out Kelly's post. Thanks, Jeannine.

    Irene, I love this - "I think I could plot out my life in poetry."