Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Synesthetic Impressions


This writing exercise idea was offered by Dr. Jeffrey Lee in a class at the University of Northern Colorado.


Synesthesia is a condition in which one affected by it will experience a transfer of information received from one sense to an impression in another sense. Trying to interpret a visual impulse as a sound or vice- versa, would be an example. Using words to describe what is typically sensed as smell, as a color, or a taste expressed as a sensation of touch, can enrich the vocabulary of a writer, and expand his or her means of expression.


Since my own mother experienced these kinds of sensations, and since this was the first time I ever knew there was a name for the condition, when I chose to write a series of poems about my mother, I tried to interpret her experience of the world through the prism of mixed senses, in a group poems about her. This is one of these:


Summer Sybarite 1918

Once she found it strange that no one

else saw by touch or heard the secrets

sung by woodland trees, or that others

never smelled the same colors as she,

or felt melodies moving playfully upon

their skin, as she felt on hers.


When she asked if her

grandfather felt itches from different

pitches played on his violin, his look

was so completely shocked, she

decided these sensations should

not be mentioned. Private. Secret,

and as she grew, she wondered if

the extrasensory and purely pleasurable

perceptions she gained, were perhaps,

dangerous, and… evil?


It would remain her secret, a pact

sealed by the sweetness of sun kissed

berries, silenced behind sealed lips,

but told maybe only one sometime day

to her one and only one time love.


Yes! she dreamed of love, and

sometimes fame, and music always,

accompanied her thoughts, filling her

heart with a crescendo of joy or a dirge

of sorrow, if that was what was on the wind.


On summer nights, through the upper

window she watched the sensual dance

of the Aurora borealis. She reached

with outstretched palms toward

the rainbow curtains, silently matching

the swell of those colors to tones of

keystrokes, set to music using the rhythms

she heard in her head, as she watched

the harmonies of ribbons unfold

across the sky,

but remembering always

to praise God for these blessings…

for being alive, punctuated by being

an instrument of such pure pleasure.


Yet at times she feared that things

which brought such rapture were not

of God, but were instead meant

to test her in this, her private wilderness,

where senses never kept their place.



Writing Exercise Challenge:


Try to convey the impression of an auditory environment , and sounds as accurately as possible but use words normally used to describe “colors, temperatures, textures, scents, flavors and even synesthetic sensations.” Lee said “one poet wrote a piece that transfigured sounds into the way one would dance to them” choreographing the sound and dancing to them.


There are several other parts to this exercise beyond just using mixed senses and impressions as a beginning. if you are interested, you might try to contact Dr. Jeffrey Lee via a Google search for

Jeffrey Lee, Invisible Sister- Many Mountains Moving. (one of his poetry books.)


Writing on this blog is the © of Ruth Zachary.

1 comment:

  1. This is an amazing poem Ruth.It is a shame that your mother felt she had to keep her perceptions secret, but it sounds like it enhanced her joy.

    I'll keep this lesson in mind to try one day.