One of the tools that visual artists turn to when creating their compositions—whatever their medium of choice—is balance. In art, balance refers to the arrangement or relationship between objects within the painting, photograph or sculpture.
The object of balance is to assure that no part of the whole is overly powerful, overly weak, isolated, or overcrowded, without good reason. It doesn’t mean that the work lacks a focal point, that one thing that draws your eye into the painting.
There are three ways to achieve balance in visual art:
• Symmetry: placement of objects equally distant from the center line. Think of balance, proportion, harmony.
• Asymmetry: using different elements on each side of the center line but in such a way that they offset one another. The photo at the top of this post is an example of asymmetrical balance in photography.
• Dynamic balance occurs when all objects appear to be in motion but are not flying off the canvas.
But…how does this apply to poetry?
Form poetry caters to a sense of symmetrical balance. Use of rhyme and meter serves to create harmony within the whole, whatever the structure, and generates expectation within the reader who consciously, or not, hears the poem within a defined format.
The poet can also use shape to bestow visual balance to his or her work. This is especially effective when the shape of the poem speaks to the subject. In excellent example of this in a recent dVerse Poetics, poetess Laurie Kolp shared a poem about weather in the shape of a tornado.
A Different Kind of Storm
He knew all about the weather- Mother Nature’s
mood swings, her temperamental lows and highs, her
wishy-washy wretched ways of sweeping circuitous
chaos, whirling through lives like an undecided
lover. He knew how to track her storms,
predict her wayward path; even when his
life was at risk. He bravely stood in the
center of cat four and five hurricanes
while everyone evacuated, hanging
onto trees so he wouldn’t blow away.
He dared to chase tornadoes, getting
as close as a snake on the prowl,
recoiling just in time. When
earthquakes or tsunamis hit
without warning, shook
everyone’s lives into
disarray, he was first
to find the action
arrive on the scene
amidst the deadly debris
and destruction, while all
the while toying with threats
of the aftermath. Yes, he
could do all that and
survive, but he could
not stop drinking;
alcohol is the
Another way to attend to balance in poetry is through contrast of topics or ideas. Thinking in terms of opposites you will find poems that pair such subjects of life/death, love/hate, beauty/ugliness, air/earth/fire/water, winter/summer/spring/autumn, to name but a few. Use of complementary colors and other sensory details are two more ways of using contrast to achieve balance.
This week I learned a new (to me) literary term: merism. Merism is a literary device in which two opposite are placed together to indicate the totality of a concept. For example, in the biblical reference to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, good and evil means “all.” Thus it is a reference to the “Tree of ALL Knowledge.” In that respect, I think merism is a tool for balance.
A well-known poem that uses this idea of contrast, or dualism to illustrate balance is Gerard Manley Hopkins beautiful work, Pied Beauty:
Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brindled cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spáre, strange;
Whatever is fickle, frecklèd (who knows how?)
With swíft, slów; sweet, sóur; adázzle, dím;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is pást change:
Gerard Manley Hopkins 1877, Public Domain
Alternate lines of dialogue or narrative/internal dialogue are another tool in the poet’s craft box. Here’s a short excerpt of a poem I’ve previously posted, Virginia Tech, that uses this technique:
…Did he go to the woods in Virginia?
Find comfort in leafy branches
that tickled his progression along that path
that no one else seemed to know about?
There, in the hollow,
beneath an old oak,
did he flail his fists at the void,
swallowing the scream rising from the
base of his spine like a snake of
the Kundalini species?
I understand it’s true of all
Creative People, if we didn’t do the arts,
we could hurt somebody.
Did he sleep the night before?
Or did shadows toy with his angst
while muffled snores from the other side
of the paper-thin dorm wall
ripped through him?
Taunt him in his evil purpose?
In the morning, did he wonder
if this was the day,
or if today,
like yesterday and the day before,
he’d steal a nap before class and
find enough release in sleep
to buy a few more moments of time
from his accrued life span.
Lots of people, I understand,
plot the sequence of their lives every day,
ahead of time, step-by-step…
And so, for today’s prompt, let’s play with the concept of balance. Here’s a few suggestions about how to do that.
• Write a poem with a balanced visual appearance;
• Intersperse dialogue and narrative in your poem…or narrative and internal reflection;
• Pen a poem that directly addresses the concept of balance; “Balance” could even be it’s title;
• Notice the element of balance in the world around you, whether in nature, sports, relationships and let that be the source of your inspiration;
• Write an ekphrasis of a piece of art (any medium), focusing on aspects of that work that relate to balance and its impact on the viewer;
• Create a metaphorical poem that represents balance;
• Write to contrasts, merism.
• Write your poem and post it on you website or blog;
• Access Mr. Linky at the bottom of this post and add your name and the direct URL to your poem;
• Visit other poets who have participated and comment on their work…especially those who have cared enough to read and comment on yours;
• Have fun…and you might think about inviting someone new to join us at the pub.