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!

 

 

When Autumn Pivots into Winter

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20171117_093517.jpgAs October slides into November, pagans experience a thinning of the veil between this world and the next. That’s why Samhain or Halloween is full of ghosts and ghouls, witches, and warlocks—and why All Soul’s Day (Nov. 1st) and La Dia de Los Muertos (Nov. 5th) follow soon after.

What is the intersection between poetry and writing for children? To me, the underlying themes of life, death, and loss are the same. With its use of metaphor and rhythms, poetry telegraphs the deepest human emotions. It cuts through extraneous verbiage and gets to the heart of being human.

In my middle-grade fantasy WIP, poetry provides language for magical creatures—both demonic and benign. Helpful sprites speak in simple iambic tetrameter, while frightening demons express themselves in more complex, anapestic rhythms—reminiscent of the galloping beat used in Edna St. Vincent Millay’s, Moriturus, a poem about death.

Poetry with its compelling rhythms roots us in time, mimics the ticking of the clock, the pounding of the heart, the silence when a poem—or a life—ends. Children instinctively understand these rhythms. I include poetry in a blog about children’s book writing because it serves as the basis of my creativity, and fuels my prose.

A few years ago, a deadly October blizzard underscored the fragility of life and inspired the following poem. Last week, after returning from 70-degree days in Aqaba, Jordan to subfreezing weather in New York City, I revised Magnolia Leaves, which appeared on my blog: Poetry: Drinking from the Well. It seemed like a good time to revisit it.

 

Magnolia Leaves

 

Magnolia leaves clatter

like salad plates

onto bluestone walkways.

Chipped and brown,

the wreckage stacks up

while we wait for spring.

 

Temperatures plummet.

Icicles smash from rooflines.

 

Winter’s coming and Elizabeth

(our magnolia hybrid) shakes

her mustard yellow skirts,

bares her mouse-brown arms,

and folds her hands quietly.

 

She will gestate, patiently, coolly,

through twelve weeks of winter.

 

Her bowl-like blossoms

(butter-yellow in April)

will unfold from tapered buds

the shape of paintbrushes.

Each branch’s tip unfurling,

like velvet origami:

tender, triumphant.

 

She will gestate, patiently, coolly,

through twelve weeks of winter.

 

Picturing those massive yellow blooms

gives us strength to see

another season through

to its conclusion.

 

Temperatures plummet.

Icicles smash from rooflines.

 

In Buffalo, nine feet of snow fell

over three days. Twelve people died—

frozen in cars, or crushed

under buckled roofs.

Whole nursing homes evacuated.

 

Picturing those massive yellow blooms

gives us strength to see

another season through

to its conclusion.

 

Not everyone makes it to spring.

But I hope we do.

 

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A magnolia tree illustrates the uncertainty of life and death and the hoped-for rebirth of Spring. How do you deal with mortality? Are there particular metaphors you use to describe the cycle of life?

Please leave comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

 

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.