Reed Hepburn ’12 – When I applied last fall for Dr. Freeze’s class on the American expatriate writers in France, I wrote in my application about the unfinished business I had in Paris. I studied abroad there my junior year. While there, although I was bombarded with beautiful sights, sounds, smells, and tastes around every corner for four months, my creative writing floundered. I wanted more than anything to write poetry, stories, songs– anything. But somehow I was artistically constipated. I think now that the overwhelming beauty of these sensations and the long history of prior artists who had deftly and successfully described the city frankly intimidated me.
In this class, we studied those very artists, and not only just any artists who had written about Paris, but artists who shared my experience– growing up in the U.S. and then living in and writing from Paris (and other cities in France) — Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, Pound, and more. One writer whose work strongly affected my own this semester was Ezra Pound. His famous poem, “In a Station at the Metro” exemplified his style, known as imagism. This style (and the movement that followed) focused on presenting one or two images, in as vivid yet precise verbiage as possible, leaving interpretation (which can yield just as rich messages as any more elaborate style) to the reader. In a Station at the Metro was written about a vision in a Paris metro, the very station of which we were able to visit while there.
Studying Pound and his aesthetics in class gave me a new approach to writing about such fantastic places as Paris. I didn’t realize how affective this approach could be, however, until I came back with this new knowledge. Instead of searching for profound statements I could make about such a historic and artistically rich city, I simply observed my surroundings and wrote about salient images. I didn’t usually find any deep significance in the images themselves, but later, when trying to express a feeling or idea in my poetry, I could recall those images and their descriptions to use as concrete representations of my inner thoughts. Paris and Nice were invaluable sources of images for me, once again “bombarding” me with beauty or simply interesting, very different sights, which I could now take advantage of and express in writing. My notebook of poems, which previously received a poem or creative piece once a week or so, has been constantly in use this week, and while I will be sad to leave these extraordinary places, I am excited to come back and have the time and relaxation I need to develop my ideas and craft them into polished creative work.