Double Exposure: Read more about the process behind the poems.

Read More about the cover design and source photograph:

For the cover of the collection, I Google-searched, “royalty free images,” and quickly lost all track of time and space as I scrolled through one amazing photo after another, all free. Eventually I settled on where I searched for “photographer” and found this beautiful, brightly colored, and perfectly ambiguous photo by Camila Cordeiro. I used Adobe Illustrator to posterize the image, matched the color of the font to her blouse and voila—several hours later—I had my cover. 

Read more about the process behind the poems: 

The title of the anthology, Double Exposure, speaks to the unifying themes of this collection and reflects the process by which my students originated their poetry. The students were asked to reflect on an old photo from their childhood, the more candid the better.  

At first, their task was to describe the photo in detail, not to explain it, but to capture as many specifics as possible, as if they were describing it over the phone to someone who couldn’t see it—or better, as if the photo was about to be destroyed or deleted forever and unless they captured it with words, it would cease to exist. 

Setting these first descriptive notes aside, I asked my students to reflect on the role personal photographs played in their lives. I wanted them to consider the possibility that photographs do more to shape, distort—even replace—our personal memories than they do to preserve them. Now their next set of notes would be based on everything not in the picture: Who is just out of frame, or just missed getting in the shot? What happened just before the picture was taken, or just after? Who took the photo, and where are they now? And so on. In the classroom It sounds something like this:

“I can’t answer that question,” someone will inevitably exclaim, “I was only three!”

“I understand, but answer it anyway.”

“You mean, lie?”

“Yes, make it up, lie. You are creating art,” I say, paraphrasing either Pablo Picasso or Robert Frost, maybe both, “and art is the lie that tells the truth.”

Someone grumbles, someone looks up and gives a wry smile, and still someone else stares past me, lost in their thoughts … or just lost, it’s hard to tell, but I have to trust them as much as they have to trust me, and so we push on.

“This person in the picture,” I say. “What have they forgotten? What secret have they kept?” 

As my questions became more personal—and more ambiguous—the students began to realize they were participating in an activity as much psychoanalytical as literary, and probably more personally intimate that they had anticipated. 

For the final step of this process the students were told to craft a poem inspired by their photo and based on the contents of their personal notes. 

How they accomplished this exactly was completely up to them, and I gave no requirements as to the maximum or minimum length of their poem. I did however, give three directives: 

1. Do make extensive use of sound devices and detailed descriptions!
2. Do not explain (Show, don’t tell. This is NOT an essay.).
3. Do not use end rhyme* (because I said so).

*Not that there is anything wrong with end rhyme! But I do feel students will pay more attention to and make use of the many other sound, pattern, and language devices at their disposal once they are set free of the almighty rhyming couplet.  

Double Exposure, then, as the title of the anthology suggests, is the slightly out of focus way of seeing that comes from looking at the same thing from different viewpoints, from focusing on the same event from different perspectives. A that-was-then-and-this-is-now … or this-is-then-and-that-was-now induced blurriness brought on by a seeing of the past through the eyes of the present, and vice versa. In the case of my students, it is a forced examination of childhood at the very moment they are preparing to leave it. 

The Double Exposure that results can feel as comforting as it is unsettling, as reassuring as it is disturbing, and as familiar as it is strange; mostly though, it just feels real. It feels true.

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