The short story “Picasso’s Balcony” by Bob Kaufman is a poem with vivid details and evocative scenes. The author visits different scenes and areas where he describes the beauty, sadness and even the terrifying aspects of nature. It is broken up into four different substantial paragraphs and ends on a single line. He visits places such as powdered balconies, fields of flowers, volcanic tops, and cliffs overlooking the sea. He closes with a description of what has just been done; meaning every “melodic” line here can be woven together at the very end.
The most remarkable craft here is Kaufman’s use of imagery. He creates a scene that is not only beautifully detailed, but also believable. In just five short paragraphs, Kaufman weaves a world for the reader that they can’t help but believe and imagine in their own head. He shows the reader the scene, he doesn’t tell he or she what to look for.
Take for example his first sentence. It says, “Pale morning light, dying in shadows, loving the earth in midday rays, casting blue to skies in rings, sowing powder trails across balconies.” In a basic short story or poem, this could have been said with “The sun was coming up, it then was midday, and it snowed on the balcony.” Clearly, the first line is not only more poetic than the made-up second line, but it paints the picture for the reader. This is important because some writers fall into the habit of telling a reader what is happening versus showing them what is happening. Any writer can say, “There is sadness in nature,” or “Nature can be terrifying.” However, by showing the reader what is happening requires them to piece those mental images together. It leaves a stronger and more accurate image in their head.
For example, there are certain trigger words and phrases that show the reader the sadness and bleakness. Take this section from the piece:
“Crying love rising from the lips of wounded flowers, wailing, sobbing, breathing uneven sounds of sorrow, lying in wells of earth, throbbing, covered with desperate laughter, out of cool angels, spread over night.”
There are words in this passage that give us a sad or depressing imagery. Some of those words are “wounded,” “wailing,” “sorrow,” and “desperate.” The reasoning for this choice of imagery is to show that while nature is beautiful and awe-inspiring, it does not have to be happy or cheerful. The image described here can easily be seen as a cemetery. The “crying love… from… wounded flowers” is from the flowers that are left for the dead. This is further proven when he says “lying in the wells of the earth… cool angels, spread over night.” The dead are lying in the ground and angels are commonly linked with the dead. These are the angels that come down for the “crying” souls of the dead.
The next example is that the author uses frequently is the word “blue.” In the short piece, the word is used six different times in descriptions. Blue is a cool color. It is seen as a very calm, sedate and sad. In fact, in many cases, the word blue can actually be substituted for the word and meaning of sad. The fact that the author is using this word habitually in his piece, with a negative connotation, further insists that it is meant to be sad or depressing.
Kaufman’s use of imagery in “Picasso’s Balcony” is something amazing. His descriptive writing is something many writers have not mastered yet. With just a few choice words, he is able to leave a picture in the mind of the reader at the end of the poem. His imagery in the piece is thought-evoking. It brings the scene the popping off the page into the reader’s mind. This type of thought-evoking imagery is not only descriptive, but believable. Without both, a writer cannot hope to leave a lasting impression from the piece. It must require the reader to put the pieces together and imagine what this scene would look like with specific details of “showing.”