After spending way too much time scrolling through social media, my mind closes down to metaphor to an alarming degree. Then, when I turn to my own poetry or prose, the same tired phrases and bedraggled clichés chase their tails around my head.
Is there any medicine for this modern malady besides unplugging all electronic devices and retreating into nature for months at a time?
Well…yes. I’ve discovered a powerful antidote: poetry. The very act of reading a poem–preferably out loud–throws open the windows of my mind. Curtains flutter at the window; imaginary landscapes draw into view; new ideas emerge and my creative self breathes again. Even my dreams contain more vivid and colorful imagery!
Some years back, I heard U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins—great master of metaphor and whimsy that he is—read at the National Arts Club in NYC. Years later, one of his lines still lodged in my brain:
“…when we have compared everything in the world to everything else in the world…”
Collins was referring to poetic metaphor, but for the life of me, I couldn’t recall the poem or remember its name.
Luckily, when I put that line into a search, Voilà! the entire poem popped up! Eagerly I read…
The trouble with poetry, I realized
as I walked along a beach one night —
cold Florida sand under my bare feet,
a show of stars in the sky —
the trouble with poetry is
that it encourages the writing of more poetry,
more guppies crowding the fish tank,
more baby rabbits
hopping out of their mothers into the dewy grass.
And how will it ever end?
unless the day finally arrives
when we have compared everything in the world
to everything else in the world,
and there is nothing left to do
but quietly close our notebooks
and sit with our hands folded on our desks….
–From Billy Collins, The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems, 2007.
My favorite use of metaphor sneaks up on me unawares, when one thing is described using the language of another. Here’s an example from Collins’s poem, “Shadow.”
“…how tired I am of reading and writing,
tired of watching all the dull, horse-drawn sentences
as they plough through fields of paper.
“…tired of being dragged on a leash of words
By an author I can never look up and see…”
–From Billy Collins, The Art of Drowning, 1995.
How well I can relate to these sentiments. And yet, after spending a few minutes chewing over some juicy metaphors—where poems multiply like baby rabbits or proliferate like guppies, and prose writing is likened to trudging carriage horses or reluctant dogs—when next I put fingers to keyboard, my writing executes joyful cartwheels in the cool grass, and I join those ranks of poets and writers who strive to compare everything in the world to everything else in the world.
Scholes, R. (1969). Elements of Poetry, Oxford University Press: NY, London, Toronto.
For access to thousands of poems: https://allpoetry.com/
How you keep your own poetry and prose vibrant and fresh?
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