Lesson of the Week: Sense-Imagery in Writing

By Zine Instructor Shaun

Good writers make things real. They transport readers to places they’ve never been and help them understand experiences they’ve never experienced.

A lot of people don’t know what it’s like to be poor. In trouble. Or homeless. And homeless youth feel that lack of understanding throughout their day.

Writing is one way to make people understand what it’s like. Writers do this by evoking the senses—sound, sight, smell, touch and taste. These are the ways we perceive things and from reflecting on our perceptions, we come to various conclusions.  If writers can make readers feel something, they can change the way they think.

I ask Ziners to pick an abstraction—an idea like freedom or peace or an emotion—like sadness or anger. Things that by themselves  aren’t physical. And I ask them to use similes that call upon each of the senses in order to make the abstraction a real experience. 

DeWayne picked “hunger” for his abstraction and here’s his poem:

Hunger
By DeWayne

Hunger is the world that grips me
in the afternoon stretches of the day.
An empty loud, land
that screams with shrieks of intestinal pains.

Escape is no option, like being trapped
on a preserve and you are the wild animal,
panting and sweating, seeking, and thinking,
searching for your kill to come.

Hunger is Muhammad Ali
standing on the other side of the ring.
Just when you think you’ve dodged it,
Muhammad Ali swings with the right
and lands one right in your stomach,
making the pain unbearable.

Hunger is a parasite that would not be quelled
or satisfied until it has devoured
every morsel you try to consume.

In the world of consumption, hunger is poverty’s running mate.
First poverty strikes you down, and then hunger comes
running along like a sidekick bully
to kick you while you’re down and steal your lunch money,
leaving you poorer, hungrier, and in worse shape than you were before.
Now the deadly duo can strike again
with no restraint. At will.

Hunger is the title of a book
that recently made it to theaters
and topped the box office.
But for real—hunger sucks.

DeWayne defines hunger for us. The experience is visual, tactile and imaginative. The similes are idiosyncratic, intricate and fresh. After reading it we know what hunger is like for him specifically, but we’re also able to generalize it to the experiences other young men and women may be having in this city.

Even that last line alludes to the reality that some of us, who are distant from hardship, might think about hunger only as a movie.  But DeWayne closes with a reminder to keep things real.

Hungry for more? Check out our Zine Store to read more from youth describing their experiences through sensational writing.

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