Getting at Metaphor

This exercise comes in three parts:

1. Describe an object or scene that particularly interests you without making any comparisons of one thing to another. Rewrite it, if necessary, until it is as free of comparisons as possible.

2. Take the same object or scene and use it to describe one of your parents. In other words indulge yourself in comparisons.

3. Write a poem which, though it is a description of the object or scene, is really about your parent.

It may be useful to publish and share the first part before moving on. Get feedback from your peers to be certain your initial description does no lapse into comparison.

This exercise helps teach the necessity of indirection. The quickest way from point A to B (from a person to a clarified feeling, say) detours through metaphor. Not to mention through several drafts in the rewriting.

by Julio Noboa Polanco

Let them be as flowers,
always watered, fed, guarded, admired,
but harnessed to a pot of dirt.

I'd rather be a tall, ugly weed,
clinging on cliffs, like an eagle
wind-wavering above high, jagged rocks.

To have broken through the surface of stone,
to live, to feel exposed to the madness
of the vast, eternal sky.
To be swayed by the breezes of an ancient sea,
carrying my soul, my seed,
beyond the mountains of time or into the abyss of the bizarre.

I'd rather be unseen, and if
then shunned by everyone,
than to be a pleasant-smelling flower,
growing in clusters in the fertile valley,
where they're praised, handled, and plucked
by greedy, human hands.

I'd rather smell of musty, green stench
than of sweet, fragrant lilac.
If I could stand alone, strong and free,
I'd rather be a tall, ugly weed.

One’s Self, En-Masse

One’s-Self I sing, a simple separate person,
Yet utter the word Democratic, the word En-Masse. – Walt Whitman

With the above in mind, write a description of two or three paragraphs, no longer than 220 words, in which you describe one particular member or element of a set:

  • one sparrow in a flock of sparrows
  • one baby in a nursery of babies
  • one marble in a bag of marbles
  • one scream in a stadium of screams
  • one somersault in a series of somersaults
  • one baby goat in a stock trailer of baby goats

The challenge is to perceive the qualities of the group, and to distinguish what makes an individual a member of that group both a part of it and apart from it. Avoid the above examples; instead use sets (groups) that you can observe directly, or observe them from your imagination. Try for clarity and simplicity in your language.

At first, this is a prose exercise – write a couple of descriptive paragraphs. To make a poem, pull lines/phrases from the paragraphs and arrange as you’ve done in other exercises.

Five Easy Pieces

As in the movie this title refers to, we discover things visually in fragmentary form, and what we think we know or see and what someone else knows or sees and what we communicate between those two positions is scant. This exercise attempts to tell a whole story in a quick scene.

It is to be written in five sentences*, and can be done in a class.

There are two preparation steps.

The first step is to remember a person you know well, or to invent a person.

The second step is to imagine a place where you find the person.

Then you are ready for the five pieces.

  1. Describe the person’s hands.
  2. Describe something s/he is doing with the hands.
  3. Use a metaphor to say something about some exotic place.
  4. Mention what you would want to ask this person in the context of 2 and 3, above.
  5. The person looks up or toward you, notices you there, gives an answer that suggest s/he only gets part of what you asked.

* The more experienced could dedicate an entire stanza or section to each piece but a single sentence or line per piece is recommended for beginners.

by M. Andrew Patterson

His hands were smooth
Never having labored over a hot stove in July
The grease burning and searing the skin
The charcoal embedding under your nails.

His pencil twitched a rapid staccato
As his hand moved it smoothly over the page
A ballerina in graphite
Dancing through Elysian fields
A swan over stormy seas.

"What do you think?" I ask it. I dread it
A pause -- A dip
The dancing done.

"Tuesday would be a good time, you think?"