A well worthwhile workshop on metaphor

Now that the Women’s March is over, it was time to get back to my writing life. And I didn’t waste a minute to do that. I went to a metaphor workshop yesterday morning – the very next day after the march. And it was well worth it. It helped me look at the metaphors we use every day, and it gave me exercises to use for finding metaphors in my writing – especially my poems.

Here I’d like to share a few quotes about metaphors and a poem that we read during the workshop. Sorry, the three short poems I wrote while trying my hand in metaphor are nowhere near ready for public eyes.

Stephen King

Stephen King (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)

Quotes:

  • “One of the deepest pleasures of metaphor is that it says both things at once. It runs two tracks simultaneously.” ~Lia Purpura
  • “Similes are stronger than adjectives and metaphors are stronger than similes.” ~Kaveh Akbar
  • “The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor. It is the one thing that cannot be learnt from others; and it is also a sign of genius.” ~Aristotle
  • “I think every writer stands in the doorway of their own prison. Half in and half out.” ~Sherman Alexie
  • “All slang is metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry.” ~Gilbert K. Chesterton
  • “I think that I do feel that my nature is to express what this self, this particular self at this time, experiences in the world. And that is so organic – I use this metaphor a lot but I’ll use it again – it’s like a pine tree producing pine cones, or a blackberry bush producing blackberries – it’s just what happens with this being, now.” ~Alice Walker
  • “Unless you are educated in metaphor, you are not safe to be let loose in the world.” ~Robert Frost
  • “My all time favorite similes, by the way, come from the hardboiled-detective fiction of the forties and fifties, and the literary descendants of the dime-dreadful writers. These favorites include ‘It was darker than a carload of asshole’ (George V. Higgins) and “I lit a cigarette [that] tasked like a plumber’s handkerchief’ (Raymond Chandler.)” ~Stephen King

Sherman Alexie and his mother

Eulogy, A Poem by Sherman Alexie

[This is my favorite of all the poems we read yesterday morning. It inspired me to write one of my poems in the class.]

My mother was a dictionary.
She was one of the last fluent speakers of our tribal language.
She knew dozens of words that nobody else knew.
When she died, we buried all of those words with her.
My mother was a dictionary.
She knew words that had been spoken for thousands of years.
She knew words that will never be spoken again.
She knew songs that will never be sung again.
She knew stories that will never be told again.
My mother was a dictionary.
My mother was a thesaurus,
My mother was an encyclopedia.
My mother never taught her children the tribal language.
Oh, she taught us how to count to ten.
Oh, she taught us how to say “I love you.”
Oh, she taught us how to say “Listen to me.”
And, of course, she taught us how to curse.
My mother was a dictionary.
She was one of the last four speakers of the tribal language.
In a few years, the last surviving speakers, all elderly, will also be gone.
There are younger Indians who speak a new version of the tribal
language.
But the last old-time speakers will be gone.
My mother was a dictionary.
But she never taught me the tribal language.
And I never demanded to learn.
My mother always said to me, “English will be your best weapon.”
She was right, she was right, she was right.
My mother was a dictionary.
When she died, her children mourned her in English.
My mother knew words that had been spoken for thousands of years.
Sometimes, late at night, she would sing one of the old songs.
She would lullaby us with ancient songs.
We were lullabied by our ancestors.
My mother was a dictionary.
I own a cassette tape, recorded in 1974.
On that cassette, my mother speaks the tribal language.
She’s speaking the tribal language with her mother, Big Mom.
And then they sing an ancient song.
I haven’t listened to that cassette tape in two decades.
I don’t want to risk snapping the tape in some old cassette player.
And I don’t  want to risk letting anybody else transfer that tape to digital.
My mother and grandmother’s conversation doesn’t belong in the cloud.
That old song is too sacred for the Internet.
So, as that cassette tape deteriorates, I know that it will soon be dead.
Maybe I will bury it near my mother’s grave.
Maybe I will bury it at the base of the tombstone she shares with my father.
Of course, I’m lying.
I would never bury it where somebody might find it.
Stay away, archaeologists! Begone, begone!
My mother was a dictionary.
She knew words that have been spoken for thousands of years.
She knew words that will never be spoken again.
I wish I could build tombstones for each of those words.
Maybe this poem is a tombstone.
My mother was a dictionary.
She spoke the old language.
But she never taught me how to say those ancient words.
She always said to me, “English will be your best weapon.”
She was right, she was right, she was right.

***

If you’re interested in finding out more about metaphor yourself, I highly recommend you contact Kelly Grace Thomas, Kelly@thepoetrysalon.com and ask when she will hold her next workshop called: The Magic and Mining of Metaphor.

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