26 October 2016
31 May 2017
Metaphors: What are they? I must be honest: I don’t really know. I don’t understand them. I never have. I probably never will. This morning, I determined to find out what a metaphor really is. So I Googled metaphor and came up with the following definitions.
- A metaphor is “a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance.”
Well, that is pretty clear, isn’t it?
- A metaphor is “something used, or regarded as being used, to represent something else; emblem; symbol.”
No doubts there.
- “Metaphor is a figure of speech which makes an implicit, implied or hidden comparison between two things that are unrelated but share some common characteristics. In other words, a resemblance of two contradictory or different objects is made based on a single or some common characteristics.”
I know exactly what they mean. Or do I?
- “In simple English, when you portray a person, place, thing, or an action as being something else, even though it is not actually that “something else,” you are speaking metaphorically.”
No misunderstanding here.
- “A metaphor is a figure of speech that refers, for rhetorical effect, to one thing by mentioning another thing. It may provide clarity or identify hidden similarities between two ideas. Where a simile compares two items, a metaphor directly equates them, and does not use “like” or “as” as does a simile.”
Slightly clearer, but not as clear as daylight.
I turn to my blog in search of metaphors that I have created in my poetry and read that “The egg of my skull / shows hairline cracks: / tiny beaks pecking / fine-tuned sparks of song”. “This piece,” Tanya Cliff writes, “offers a unique and beautiful perspective on the theme (of birds).” I think I can do without the dull, dry definitions set out in the definitions above and understand metaphor as “a unique and beautiful perspective”. This functions for me. Thank you, Tanya.
Two more sequences, this time from October Angel: (1) “she gathers her evening gown / and walks among ruined flowers” (Meg Sorick’s choice) and (2) “a snapdragon opens / the frosted forge of its mouth / and sprinkles the sky / with ice-hard shards of fire” (Tanya Cliff’s choice). I can understand the first in terms of “a unique and beautiful perspective” since the picture of the October Angel is clear in my mind. In addition, evening / evening gown / ruined flowers are particularly evocative. The second sequence is much stronger as anyone who has seen the snapdragon flowers braving the ice and frost will testify.
After thinking about these three examples, I think I can now understand metaphor a little bit better. I would now define a metaphor as “a brief verbal sequence that creates a new reality that offers a unique and sometimes beautiful perspective on something that we have long known and accepted but now, thanks to the writer / poet, see in a different light.”
This personal definition allows us to distinguish more easily between dead metaphors and clichés like dead as a door nail or avoid it like the plague while allowing us to enjoy the permutations that spring from the innovation of the true metaphoric sequence. The metaphoric sequence also allows us to distinguish between a two word metaphor and a series of metaphors that are thematically linked.
From my own poetry, ruined flowers would be an example of the first while the longer sequence a snapdragon opens / the frosted forge of its mouth / and sprinkles the sky / with ice-hard shards of fire would be an example of the second. Iterative thematic imagery, a form of sequenced metaphor chains, then links the whole work, be it poem or longer piece, within an associative semantic field of parallel meanings. This also illustrates the idea of differentiating between the inorganic and organic conceit, where the inorganic conceit is the example of a single, independent instance while the organic conceit is woven into the fabric of the oeuvre.
In the WFNB Workshop on Metaphor, held in Saint John on Saturday, 27 May, 2017, we had a two hour, in-depth discussion on this topic. We began the workshop with a meet and greet and ice-breaker. Then we offered a pictorial definition of a metaphor. We generated a series of dead metaphors, to be avoided like the plague, except where we use them to define a character, or make fun of them, or use them in a new fresh light that resurrects them and brings them back to life. This was a great deal of fun. We then indulged in a series of creative writing exercises that focused on the creation of new metaphors. We finished the workshop with a “song of craze” in praise of the joys of metaphors. What a day!
The structure of the workshop was very simple. We had 120 minute (two hours) and broke them into 3 sessions of 20 minutes, a 5 minute break, 2 sessions of 20 minutes, and a grand finale composed of 3 sessions at 5 minutes each. The twenty minute sessions broke down into 5 minutes writing, 7 minutes small group discussion (4 participants per group), and 8 minutes full room participation. The five minutes writing centered on each person writing to a topic. Each member of the group then shared what they had written with the other group members. This helped develop individual voices (the theme of the conference) and showed how each individual approached a single topic in a multitude of different ways. A representative piece from each group was then chosen and the writer read the creation to those gathered in the full room participation.
As a result, everybody was actively engaged in the thinking, writing, creating, reading, and critiquing process. A considerable number of what I call “writing starts” were made. Hopefully participants will continue to develop these writing starts and develop something from them, long term.