A Spoonful of Metaphor

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20180214_154924.jpgAfter 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!

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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…
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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.

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References:

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?

Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment.

I’d love to know what you think!

 

 

Visiting Psychologist & Physicist: Ramzi Suleiman Offers up a Poem

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A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hosting Ramzi Suleiman during his brief stay in New York. Ramzi is Chair of the Psychology Department at Haifa University. He’s also a physicist, engineer, and poet—in short, a Renaissance man. His presence in my home was as enlivening as a writer’s colony. By the end of our visit, Ramzi and I were exchanging poems and commenting on each other’s work.

After I read three of his poems I said, “It makes me realize how poetic your speaking voice is. Reading your poems is like hearing you tell stories around the table–as you have done many times this week. The imagery and metaphors are so rich, and the insights are so deep.”

I was especially taken with one poem translated from Arabic: Things Have Their Reasons. It carried me along like the ocean. Like ocean waves I found myself returning to it again and again, and emerging from it breathless.

Things have their reasons 

(translated from Arabic) 

Because things cannot be complete 

without their shadows, 

God created the candles 

And the glittering lamps 

on the water’s surface 

————

Because the sea surface rises up 

and collapses Down, 

like a lover’s chest 

Because lover’s sighs 

stumble one after another 

like the sea waves, 

God created the moon 

————

Because the Earth 

does not stop spinning, 

in search of its rendezvous 

God created the hours 

and asked them 

to look after the minutes and the seconds, 

and because, usually, appointments 

choose their appointees, 

God spared chance 

————

Because the pomegranate tree 

keeps its vows, 

and the full chestnut 

yearns for its self, 

God created the earth 

————

Because the night holds its grip 

On the day’s sleeves 

Like a blind man 

clinching his hand on his cane, 

Because the day 

Throws the remnants of its light 

And slips underneath the evening’s gown 

God created the opposites 

————

Because nothing is complete 

without what compliments it 

God created love 

Because things have no being 

without what is not in them 

God spared the pain. 

— Ramzi Suleiman 

Things Have Their Reasons will appear in “Trees Die Standing,” a book of Arabic poetry by Ramzi Suleiman, Raya Publishing House, Haifa, Israel,  Autumn 2015.

This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind

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The most breathtaking books are sometimes the hardest to review. Such a one is This House of Sky, Ivan Doig’s memoir of his growing up years in 1930-40s Montana. Few authors manage to sustain the pure language of poetry for over three hundred pages, but Doig does. In 1975, after spending half the day reworking the opening sentence of his manuscript, he confides in his journal:

“It would be magnificent to do the entire book with this slow care, writing it all as highly charged as poetry–but will I ever find the time?”

And highly charged his writing is, from first page to last. Here’s an excerpt from page one:

“The stream flees north through this secret and peopleless land until, under the fir-dark flanks of Hatfield Mountain, a bow of meadow makes the riffled water curl wide to the west. At this interruption, a low rumple of the mountain knolls itself up watchfully, and atop it, like a sentry box over the frontier between the sly creek and the prodding meadow, perches our single-room herding cabin.”

The sheer beauty of Doig’s writing swept me along in a broad river of words. It wouldn’t have mattered so much what he was writing about. The subject matter happened to be the lost world of Montana–the stark, primordial land, and those who worked it. Doig’s memoir featured his sheepherding, Scottish-American cowboy father who taught his son everything he needed to know to survive off that land. Most impressively, this unschooled, hardscrabble father encouraged his son to attend the University of Chicago and become a writer.

Steeped in the rich cadences of Montana ranch life, Doig succeeded in rendering his boyhood memories, manner of speaking, and cherished people into poetic language. And in this way, opened a window for us to a now vanished world.

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What author has transported you to previously unimagined places through the use of rich, metaphorical language?

Please leave your comment below. I love to hear your thoughts.