I’m reading a book by Ted Kooser called The Poetry Home Repair Manual, in which he explains how metaphors work in writing poetry. He explains how metaphors work in plain terms, with examples. It's helpful.
I know a metaphor sets up precise identities between the two halves of a comparison, but I have had limited success with writing poetry in which I make this flow go smoothly between the two halves. My flow is usually lumpy like porridge that hasn't been stirred enough. But, I am practising with metaphor, to gain competence and grace in my writing skills. Practising every day.
About metaphor, Ted Kooser says (and he should know…he’s the Poet Laureate of the United States for 2004-2006): “To make such a comparison have its strongest effect, the poet must work only with those aspects of each half that find some kind of reflection in the other half.”
There must be follow through. Kooser says that this means that once the comparison is set up the poet must try to extract everything he or she can from it. Press the porridge?
This is easy for me to comprehend but not so easy to re-create.
For a practise exercise, I have taken Ted Kooser’s poem “Etude” from Weather Central as a model and have played with his form and many of his words. I changed the metaphor that runs through the poem.
But darn it, while some of it works, it doesn’t all work. The porridge still has lumps.
Learning to write poetry is inspiration and talent but it is also learning the craft, becoming an apprentice to the tools of the trade. Metaphor is a tool I need to become skillful using. I need to become smooth enough to create gourmet porridge or even something wonderful like cheesecake.
So, with apologies to the master of metaphor, Ted Kooser and to his poem “Etude”, I’ve written this version.
I’ve been watching an injured fingernail
grow out for weeks, easing the damage
upward and out with the patience
of a detective pushing toward healing a mystery.
Let’s say he holds down an everyday job
in a station. His dented face fits in. Each one
alike. Long days handling his files, clawing,
scratching the surface of truth. At the edge
of each insight, some new thing appears.
No one has seen him there, fingering premonitions
about sly schemes. His hand is poised
to pluck truth out of confusion.
He would regenerate the whole truth if he could,
complete, unscathed and renewed.
The metaphorical bridge between the nail healing and the detective searching has weakness, words that don’t quite capture the link and parallel as I would have liked. Yes, lumps...but then, I am learning.
And maybe the next one will be better.
I’ll work at it and share how I’m doing…sometimes.
Thank you, Ted Kooser for this lesson. And sorry for mucking about with your words and making lumpy porridge. But I have to learn, don't I?
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