on Writing Forward:
When we talk about imagery, we’re usually referring to visuals — whatever we can see with our eyes. In literary (and more specifically, poetry) terms, imagery is anything that represents a sensory experience, regardless of whether it’s experienced through the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, or hands.
There are various types of imagery that we can use in poetry writing, including visual imagery (sight), auditory imagery (sound), olfactory imagery (smell), gustatory imagery (taste), and tactile imagery (touch).
Poets use all types of imagery to make a poem come alive, so readers can feel it, and not just emotionally. Creating a sense of time and space via imagery pulls readers into the poem; reading it becomes a visceral experience. Engaging the readers’ senses gives the poem an immediate realism.
This use of imagery is called sensory detail, and it’s one of many ways that poets show rather than tell.