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There Can Never Be Said Enough About Metaphor

by Rochelle Jewel Shapiro 

November 2012

Rerun in April 2013 by popular demand

Watch for her insights every month on Authorlink

". . . to make good metaphors implies an eye for resemblances.”
—Aristotle (Poetics).

“The greatest thing by far is to have a command of metaphor. This alone cannot be imparted by another; it is the mark of genius, for to make good metaphors implies an eye for resemblances.”—Aristotle (Poetics).

A metaphor is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between two unlike things that have something in common. They are used in advertising all the time. “Life is a journey. Enjoy the ride.” (Nissan.)

“Life is a journey. Enjoy the ride with a GM reward card. (General Motors.)

“Your daily ray of sunshine.” (Metaphor for orange juice by Tropicana.)

Stick a “like” or “as if” or “as” in and you have a simile.

“Sleeping on a Sealy is like sleeping on a cloud.” (Sealy Posturepedic.)

A simile is more explicit than a metaphor, spelling it out. For example, when Blake writers, “To see the world in a grain of sand…” he invites us to ponder the world and the grain simultaneously and make our own connection. If he wrote, “A grain of sand is like a world,” we would probably think, small round vs. big round, but never get the full implication of infinitude.

"we’re interested in fresh metaphors, ones that impart our unique voices and sensibilities."

But as writers, we’re interested in fresh metaphors, ones that impart our unique voices and sensibilities. Rule: if you’ve heard it before, such as “eager as a beaver,” “cool as a cucumber,” or “mad as a hatter,” delete it. Trite metaphors can actually dull our senses. “His eyes were dark pools.” Compare that to this line by Attila Jozef. “My eyes, those girls that milk the light.”

In Ordinary Genius, a guide for the poet within (Norton & Company, 2009) Kim Addonizio says that metaphors wake up the things they are comparing, making the reader more alert to the emotional properties of each. Her examples are “a bird’s song like a door hinge,” or “raindrops hitting the asphalt like pushpins.”

Addonizio gives exercises for creating metaphors, by what she calls waking up dead language.

Think of the figure of speech, which is a type of metaphor, the conversation died.

Here’s what the poet Dean Young did with it in his poem, Speck.

It’s hard to keep the conversation alive
but no one can find the do-not-resuscitate order.

You can set yourself the challenge of creating more metaphors on the conversation dying.

The conversation had a convulsion and then went into rigor mortis.

No one sent the conversation flowers for its funeral.

The conversation went into a skid and did a Thelma-and-Louise off the embankment.

Cliché’s bore your reader and send them looking for something else to read. You can wake up a cliché by taking it to a new level. But you can wake up clichés by expanding them, giving them a fresh context.

Life has often, oh, all too often, been compared to a road. But Addonizio points us to a Cafavy poem, Ithaca, which begins: When you set out on a journey to Ithaca, / pray that the road is long.

Cafavy makes the road of life into the road to Ithaca which alludes to the myth of the hero, Odysseus, returning home.

You can also surprise the reader with the opposite of what he expects for a metaphor, casting your net for an image or idea that is so foreign that it works. Here’s one from the poet, McDaniel:

I went into a bar and ordered a childhood dream.

(from Wounded Chandelier.)

Addonizio suggests carrying your journal with you one day, noting the objects that you see, but also something that they resemble. Perhaps that is how Ezra Pound came up with the idea in In a Station of the Metro,http://www.bartleby.com/104/106.html of comparing faces he sees to flower petals on a bough. Surely Lydia Conklin whose story, Rockaway, bagged a 2012 Pushcart Prize must have had a journal with her or made a strong mental note when she saw gum on a sidewalk as “…squished black eyeballs, the paler and flatter the older it gets. Laurel crosses souls of pieces thrown down in 1980, new wads green and glittering with spit.”

"The perfecto simile or metaphor can capture a narrator’s voice, nail a description, ."
The perfecto simile or metaphor can capture a narrator’s voice, nail a description, reveal a character and an idea better than anything else. Take it from Aristotle!





Rochelle Jewel Shapiro






Rochelle Jewel Shapiro is author of Miriam the Medium (Simon & Schuster) and has published essays in NYT (Lives), Newsweek (My Turn), et. al. Her essay, ESS, ESS, is just out in FEED ME: WRITERS DISH ABOUT FOOD, EATING, WEIGHT, AND BODY IMAGE, ed. by Harriet Brown (Random House, 2009). She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize in poetry. She teaches Writing the Personal Essay at UCLA extension. Visit her at: www.rochellejewelshapiro.com or http://rochellejewelshapiro.blogspot.com/