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Charcoal, Pastels, and Oils

For variety in your writing, consider using different levels of detail in different works, or even the same work. Compare using a very sparse style to filling in much of the detail. This is like the difference in media for drawing a picture that is produced through the use of charcoals, pastels, and oil paints. Charcoal gives a sketch in black and white and shades of gray. Pastels give color to the sketch. Painting the same picture in oils can give it texture and richer colors. So how does this apply to poetry? Let's start with an example done with charcoal:


“What is love?” asked the bitter man,
“Will I know it if I see it?
I thought I knew it, albeit
it didn’t seem to fit my plan.
It wasn’t what I thought at all.
There were no flowers in the spring.
Happy bluebirds refused to sing.
Maybe that order was too tall?
Love was a woman with hair curled,
diamond earrings and neck bepearled.
Of that notion I’m disabused.”
He left the mirror that accused.
He flexed his fingers, old and knurled,
as he walked out to face the world.

This poem is a minute slice of time in one man's life. It's a sketch, a single Polaroid in a long life. There is no history or future in this poem except what is implied or imagined. Was he married to the woman? Did he just fall in love at first sight and never see her again? Did he have a relationship that was stormy and ended badly? Did he just live a normal life with a wife for fifty years who has just died, and this fact makes him question love? What is he going out in the world to do? Is there someone there to hear him and report on this, or is he just talking to the mirror? The reader doesn't know, but will fill in the details. The poem is incredibly ambiguous. Each reader will come away with something different from a poem like this.

You might imagine what such a poem would be like were it more explicit, done in oils, as such. First of all, it would probably be longer. But what you might also see is that the poem might not work as a more explicit piece. It is the ambiguity and what is missing that makes the poem. The reader will find ways to identify with the character differently because that character is left up to the reader's imagination. Even the mood of the poem is up to debate.

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