From Alice Underwood: Metaphors are a form of figurative language which refers to words or expressions that mean something different from their literal definition. It equates those two things not because they actually are the same, but for the sake of comparison or symbolism. In the case of metaphors, the literal interpretation would often be pretty silly. For example, imagine what these metaphors would look like if you took them at face value:
Love is a battlefield (Links to an external site.).
Bob is a couch potato. (Links to an external site.)
Baby, you’re a firework (Links to an external site.).
I am titanium (Links to an external site.).
(Optional: Read more (Links to an external site.) from Alice on metaphors.)
But those metaphors aren’t very interesting, are they? “Metaphor” comes from the Latin “metaphora” which means “to carry over.” A metaphor in poetry “carries over” the idea of one thing to another. Metaphors are meant to compare one thing to another unlike thing. The pleasure of good metaphor is that it comes as a surprise and shows us relationship between two things we did not expect. They should illuminate a subject in a way we haven’t thought about before. (You might consider this one of the core “goals” of most creative writing.)
But certain metaphors become so popular and overused, they lose their power and instead of illuminating something new and true, we just skim right over them. That is, they become cliched.
Whether we’re working in prose or in poetry, we want to avoid cliche. This exercise is meant to help us focus in on concrete images and metaphor while breaking out of cliche. As you go through the prompt, don’t be afraid to write something ridiculous!
Part One: Pick any noun—person, place, thing or abstraction—that speaks to you, and list a full page of metaphors for that noun by saying what it is not.
Examples: This window is not a snail, not a pregnant woman, not patriotism, not my grandfather’s knees, not a cistern, not blueberry stains, not guilt after cruelty, not…
Part Two: Pick 4-6 of these impossibilities (or conceits) and write a few (3-4) lines for each, showing how each is so.
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