“PJ Harvey and a Determination of Quintessential ‘Imagism'”

When we heard in early December 2014 that PJ Harvey was coming out with a book of poetry, I’m pretty sure we all assumed that it would be dark, and maybe a bit bare. Sort of a verbally embodied mishmash of the apocalyptic “Sea Gulls” track on Uh Huh Her, which is just a recording of the noises of sea gulls, and the frail romantic crooning of “That Was My Veil” (which appears on the fine Peel Sessions compilation), is what I, for one, imagined.

“The Guest Room,” which is a PJ Harvey poem appearing in the December 8th New Yorker (one week after the press release announcing the impending publication) must have slotted during a lapse in my subscription, but I just discovered it by googling “PJ Harvey poetry.” And these IMAGES, these images just jump off the page and strangle you, supremely within the very first four lines: “One grey dove circles the ruins / A jet heads to the base / A boy sings to the bird / He carries a blue gas cannister (sic).”

Now, several factors at hand make this piece imagistic, besides just the bare displaying of objects and colors, and morality’s lack. One is the warped sense of time, with a jet taking an entire excursion to this “base” in seeming concurrence with a kid, already carrying this “blue gas cannister,” making one single poignant aside. In the piece, though, there is no explicit conjoining of events — only images which in this way are given an implicit concurrence, with the whole realm of time essentially nullified, prostrate before what seems to be the omnipotent present. One way this might differ from another imagist, though, William Carlos Williams, is through his penchant for showing the insignificance of otherwise mythical events, such as the drowning of Icarus, by pitting them temporally with magnified ennui, like an observing farmer doing everyday work. Harvey’s work is purely constructive, and meaning is derived through the very bare images themselves, as they are presented.

In further defining the tenets of imagism, I’ll now give a few examples of qualities it necessarily does NOT have, things it is not:


– The purpose of metaphor is to show the unseemly, or unexpected, traits of some otherwise self-definitive thing, whereas imagism expressly strives to offer words whose conventional denotation is sovereign.


(D.H. Lawrence, et. al.)

– D.H. Lawrence begins one of his poems by narrating that his romance interest has left him; and so the driving force behind the piece’s ability to convey emotion is the understanding of something intangible — love itself.


– With the simple presentation of images as sovereign poetic catalyst, imagism is also necessarily unbound by realism’s tendency to be a “faithful representation of reality,” as which wikipedia defines it. In fact, imagism is behooved by not being realist, because in proving a point so starkly, its direct casting off of normalcy, or the everyday, gives it its uniqueness.


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