reflections on perspective

Waterloo bridge and skyline. River Thames. London

Yesterday I wrote about details and concluded that what you see depends on your perspective. This is not a new topic for this blog: I think I’ve made it clear over the years I’ve been posting that I think we have a lot of choice about which lens we choose to view things through and that Hamlet was right when he said:

there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

But the other possibilities aren’t always obvious: sometimes you need to stop and take time to see things clearly and decide which the alternative views are.

The river in the top picture was far too busy rushing around to actually stop and reflect. Perhaps that’s not surprising as it’s the Thames, rushing through London – hardly the quietest or most restful place on earth.

The local canal wasn’t qite so busy, but even it was too agitated to see things clearly and has only caught a blurry image of what’s happening around it:

red canal boat moored on Grand Union Canal

Surprisingly, near the centre of Birmingham, I found a canal – I think it’s actually a stretch of the same one – that had time to sit perfectly still and reflect. It showed its surroundings quite accurately:

blue sky reflected in canal. Birmingham

But the canal had captured a single view and can’t use imagination to show anything different. As humans we can put ourselves in other people’s shoes and choose to look at things from whichever perspective we like. As writers, we often get into a rut and write from the same perspective, forgetting the power that a different view point could offer.

This brief essay is taken from A Poet’s Dozen, a collection of short essays on writing poetry that were first published in the SWWJ‘s in-house magazine The Woman Writer. The book is free to download from Amazon this weekend, as are three other of my eBooks.

A question of perspective

Experiment with different narrators to see how different views of a single situation can alter the effect of your poem.

In the last essay I talked about how the ‘I’ in first-person poetry may not be autobiographical but rather an invitation to the reader to ‘inhabit’ the role of the narrator for the duration of the poem. It’s also a chance for the narrator to step into the shoes of different protagonists.

In U A Fanthorpe’s Not My Best Side, for example, all three sections are written in the first person, but the voices are those of the dragon, the princess and St George: the poet explores possibilities by entering into the characters of each of the players in the scene.

There is almost always more than one ‘actor’ in any event or situation: the observer and the observed. By taking on the character of the observed, you can discover a whole new perspective.

You don’t need to limit yourself to the actual people involved. Perhaps your poem describes a landscape: rocks, plants, mountains, wildlife… How would that scene look from the eyes of the bee nuzzling the orchid? What about the fox and the deer, which you can’t see, but which are there observing from the undergrowth?

Even inanimate objects can be given voices. What are the rocks thinking? Do they see the mountains as their relations? Do they long for the past? Do they notice the dirt on your boots and fear the future?

Looked at from different perspectives, a single scene can inspire a whole number of poems. It’s up to you whether you let them stand alone, combine them into a single work as Fanthorpe did, or perhaps link them into a series by exploiting elements of form, lexis, titles, etc.

Check my Amazon author’s page for more details, or my website which has links to other books and writing projects.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

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