Sunday, November 30, 2008


A Haunting Refrain. Photo Montage by Ruth Zachary.

Alluding to an image which parallels the idea you are speaking about adds depth and richness to your writing. Some languages are permeated with such parallels, comparisons, and connections. The Bible is full of metaphors, similes, figures of speech, fables and parables.

I won’t go into the different definitions of these here. The idea is to compare one thing to another. It is possible to do this without using words such as “like,” or “as” to link one image to another. Write about the subject as if it were another thing; such as a tree which is described in words usually applied to a person, or a bird, as in:

Winter Scene
by A.R. Ammons

There is now not a single
leaf on the cherry tree:

except when the jay
plummets in, lights, and

in pure clarity, squalls;
then every branch

quivers and
breaks out in blue leaves.

Remember too, when the language has become permeated with a colorful “saying,” it often becomes cliché, or stale. When a phrase has been over used, it takes away from the impact or your words, where freshness could delight the reader, and excite their imagination, instead.

A word about mixed metaphors… if you use three or four different metaphoric phrases in your writing, be sure they are not conflicting or at odds with each other. For instance, if the metaphor alludes to fire, don’t use another that creates a moist image. Try to keep those secondary images in harmony with the idea you are trying to express. If you are speaking about a beach scene, try to draw in more allusions to watery parallels.

In some cases, a poem or essay can benefit from an extended metaphor, but this requires a delicate hand. Don’t drag it out to its doggedly detailed death. Keep it as brief as possible, and that is usually when what you have written conveys the idea, without adding more. After all, it is your main idea which is the reason for using the metaphor, and not the other way around.

The Censor

The little armadilla fed herself
in a grape arbor, consuming fruit
in contented seclusion,
until you came, proclaiming authority
and undisclosed agendas.

Your criticisms Invaded the peace
your words were an armada
of carnivorous wasps, which
shot from your mouth,
hummed in the ear; swarmed
through the cracks in her armor;
wedged into every opening,
and where they didn’t fit, stung.

Paralyzed, she lay under broken vines.
Her tongue swollen; numbed.
Your words buzzed behind
her eyes; made a hive of her mind.
Breeding like larvae,
they ate away her heart.


1. Make a list of five nouns or subjects from the dictionary. Then make a list of five other objects or things from your head. Try to match words from both lists. Invent a connection in which one thing parallels another or may be compared with it in some way.

2. Take one or more of the metaphors you have just invented and put it/them in an order which conveys an idea. Connect them with lines which complete an idea.

3. Think of a very emotional situation you have experienced. Limit it to a few moments in time. Describe the environment, or your appearance to make connections with the situation. Make the setting or your physical being reflect the emotions in the event you are telling.

4. Advanced: Think of a story or a myth which is like a series of events you have experienced. Mention the myth only briefly, but use images, symbols and objects from the story which may be compared to your own experience. (The myth doesn't have to exactly match your own situation.) You can change the direction near the end, showing you have learned from the original story. But show us and don't tell us the conclusion.

A very good book about writing Poetry is The Poet's Companion, by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux. Norton.

Images and unattributed Poems or Writing are the exclusive property of Ruth Zachary.

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