What Is Concrete Imagery in Poetry?
A well-composed poem uses concrete imagery to give the reader a descriptive picture to imagine. Abstract words are the opposite of this, providing an intangible feeling or concept that often cannot stimulate the same response in a reader. This is often called showing instead of telling readers what is happening to create a more powerful image.
Concrete imagery uses vivid descriptions to communicate concepts and scenes with sensory language. Using words that represent colors, objects, textures and sounds can help readers picture a powerful image in their head while reading your poem. Instructors will often tell students to "show, don't tell," which means to use concrete imagery. To make a poem more effective and strong, concrete imagery is used because it simply draws in readers better. Writers often use similes and metaphors in concrete imagery.
You can use colors and shapes for visual imagery, such as "violet" and "round." Words like "warm" and "icy" can be used for touch. To represent sounds, you can add description, such as a "wheezing laugh," or use similes, such as "like crickets chirping." An example of concrete imagery for taste would be "sweet and sour kisses," and for smell would be "lavender" or "like a hospital." Concrete imagery is all the more powerful if you can connect the words to strong associations many have experienced.
While concrete imagery uses words that provide a clear picture, abstract words do not. These represent intangible concepts and feelings, such as peace, freedom and happiness. Many people know the meanings behind these words, but most often abstract words fail to draw in the reader because there is no related sensory response. These concepts can also mean different things to individual readers, but concrete imagery can be used to describe abstract words more precisely.
Show, Don't Tell
Changing abstract words into concrete imagery can greatly improve the draw of a poem. For example, the phrase "Melissa is happy" uses the abstract word "happy" and the statement is overall not engaging. To put that into concrete terms, you could write: "Melissa's heart swelled, feeling as if it would burst -- a wide grin spread across her face." Concrete imagery can also include more in a sentence. Instead of "The door is orange," you can write "The orange door swung open with a smack."
Allison Edrington is a freelance journalist based out of Eureka, Calif., specializing in crafts, science fiction and gaming. She has written for the "Eureka Times-Standard," covering education, business and city government, and previously worked for the "Chico Enterpise-Record." Edrington graduated from California State University, Chico, with a bachelor's degree in journalism and a minor in history.