Don’t think of a white bear.

Reading The New Yorker, August 1 2011 issue.  Fiction: “Reverting to a Wild State” by Justin Torres.  Poetry: “Black Rhinoceros” by Edward Hirsch, “The Green Duck” by Sharon Olds, and “Dothead” by Amit Majmudar”

How does a writer of poetry or fiction evoke something out of nothing (nothing, that is, but words of text)?  Many writers use animals.  Readers have strong visual impressions of animals, and also strong cultural conceptions about animals.  So we see a lot of great literature filled with whales, with bears, with panthers and crows, with alligators and snakes, cats, wolves.

Color, too, seems to be a way to stamp something into the reader’s mind: many of American literature’s most famous objects of meaning–the white whale, the green light, the scarlet letter–just wouldn’t be so strong if they didn’t include a color (a big whale?  A bright light?  A knitted letter?).

How else can a writer imprint something (an image, sure, but perhaps also an idea, an emotion, a sense, even a turn of phrase) for a reader, to evoke something so strong that it lingers with the reader?

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