Spontaneity and Sensory Snapshots

I have been thinking through an interesting comment made yesterday on my amateur Haiku poems, which were based around a horror theme. The comment was made by the accomplished poet Marie from kvennarad.wordpress.com and thezenspace.wordpress.com, who is very much more knowledgable than me about this form of poetry. She suggested:

“…haiku ideally captures a transient emotion which is evoked by a momentary observation/description.  This implies spontaneity, which makes it difficult to sit down and say, for example, ‘I shall write a horror haiku’.”

I do understand exactly what is being discussed here: those moments like flashes of light when the senses capture a perfect snapshot of what it is like to be, at that exact moment. For example, yesterday while standing on a train platform, cold despite the sunshine, a cockatoo flew over, and the sunlight made the underside of its’ feathers glow with a remarkable creamy purity. While I am hardly an expert in the field, it seems that this sense of really being completely present in a moment is the essence of much Eastern philosophy.

However, I have two points I’d like to talk about in relation to this.

Firstly, being horror haiku, some of the situations are necessarily imaginary. Thankfully, I’m never going to come up against the undead (unless I’m in the seedier areas of town at 4am on a Sunday morning perhaps), and so to construct a poem about it, I’m forced to artificially create the sensations I would feel in that situation. This is probably totally against the spirit of this form of poetry, but there you are.

The second point is that those momentary observations are the ones which I find I save up to create substance and truth in the creation of imaginary worlds in my writing. It’s rather like they are sensory snapshots: frozen at that perfect moment in my head, which I can delve back into. I suspect that the snapshots are what go on to become our clearest memories.

For example, while we were snorkelling with seals in the bay here, there was a wonderful moment when I was underwater, and a seal was floating (although it seemed like hanging) upside-down in the water, like a giant fig. The bubbles were rising up out of his fur, and he was regarding me closely with huge slightly jellied eyes. A classic moment, which I hope I won’t forget, but which I haven’t yet had a chance to weave into my stories.

I think that these moments help to deepen the sensory experience we create when we write. Including not just the primary action, but also the smaller things we notice at any moment: the smell of a place, the background sounds, the taste of the air, the texture of things. All those experiences add veracity and hopefully immerse the reader more deeply in the world we have created.

I would be interested to hear other thoughts on this. Do those snapshot moments fuel your writing? Do you feel that poetry must be written spontaneously, or that perhaps it is improved by doing so?

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6 thoughts on “Spontaneity and Sensory Snapshots

  1. some of the best moments in time, are the ones we are not in pursuit of. I sometimes think the creatures of our natural world sense when we are stalking them, but seem comfortable when they know we are not.

    our modern world keeps are minds cranked up tight and we become amazed as we read thoughts from those long ago ancient masters, but we too have those thoughts when we step into nature and learn to relax and observe. just like you experienced with the seal…

    and when you are not surrounded by nature, words can trip memories you have experienced of remind you beautiful a moment in time was… it is easier to experience than discuss because we are all individuals

    thanks for sharing

  2. The beauty of this world really helps to fuel my writing – nature is where I most often go for inspiration – and taking pictures probably helps us notice that beauty more often. That’s such a beautiful picture you were able to get of the cockatoo. Sounds like a great experience with the seal too – I’ve only seen them up close while kayaking but even that was amazing.

    • To be honest – I found the picture of the cockatoo elsewhere! But I did take some of my own the other morning when the black cockatoos were in the tree out the front. I’ve only seen seals kayaking while in NZ, but that was wonderful. Much more comfortable than in the bay where it is so cold!
      I totally agree about finding inspiraton in nature. Some of your poems about it are so gorgeous!

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