Most people have no trouble understanding the simple, surface difference between a simile and a metaphor. They both serve to make comparisons, but similes use comparison words such as “like” or “as,” whereas metaphors do not. Two examples of simile from my second novel-in-progress, The Experiment, are:
Maybe he could make more of the next 23 hours … if he weren’t so aware of the minutes peeling away like sheets on a desk calendar.
Her pen moved slowly, like her morning thoughts.
To help express the character’s sense of time passing too quickly, the first example draws a comparison between minutes passing and the sheets on a desk calendar being ripped away and discarded. The second example compares the pace of the writer’s pen to the pace of her thoughts–both slow in the early morning hours.
An example of a metaphor from the same work is:
…the sky had exchanged its vibrant afternoon blue for a pale lavender nightgown.
In the above example, dusk is compared to (almost equated with) a “pale lavender nightgown” the personified sky dons before nightfall.
When a writer employs a simile, she allows for a degree of separation between the items she compares. They are similar, alike–but not the same. By contrast, a metaphor essentially equates the items it compares. When a writer uses a metaphor, she is implying a much closer comparison than if she uses a simile. As a reader, paying attention to this subtle difference can help you ascertain author’s purpose and better comprehend a character, scene, and so forth. As a writer, be aware of the fact that making comparisons through a simile or a metaphor can produce different effects. A metaphor creates a more direct comparison than does a simile. The choice you make as a writer depends on how close a comparison you intend to draw, or how close a relationship you want to create between the two subjects.
When a writer employs a simile, she allows for a degree of separation between the items she compares. They are similar, alike–but not the same. By contrast, a metaphor essentially equates the items it compares. When a writer uses a metaphor, she is implying a much closer comparison than if she uses a simile.
To see a visual representation of the subtle differences between simile and metaphor, please see this Venn Diagram.
With Halloween less than a week away, my students and I are delving into Gothic literature with the likes of Poe, Faulkner, and Gilman. One of the Gothic pieces we read is Poe’s familiar poem, “The Raven.” Typically, my students are enthusiastic about the Gothic unit in general, and, as poetry goes, they like “The Raven.” Because they are already predisposed to enjoy this poem, I use it to illustrate the importance and purpose of poetic devices–especially since one question I field almost every year goes something like this: “Why is poetry so complicated? Why can’t he just say it?” Of course, I could answer that “just saying it” takes away from the art of the poem, takes the beauty out of it–but they don’t always particularly care about that. I have found it much more effective to show them why the poet can’t “just say it” by teaching what many of the various poetic devices are, and then stripping the poem bare of them.
One question I field almost every year goes something like this: “Why is poetry so complicated? Why can’t he just say it?” Of course I can answer that “just saying it” takes away from the art of the poem, takes the beauty out of it–but teenaged students don’t always particularly care about that. I have found it much more effective to show them why the poet can’t “just say it,” by stripping the poem bare of all its poetry.
The literary devices we cover include alliteration, allusion, assonance, consonance,
metaphor, symbolism, juxtaposition, internal rhyme, rhyme scheme, imagery, and personification, just to name a few. After I provide definitions and examples of each of these, we listen to a reading of “The Raven” by Christopher Walken, and I instruct students to follow along on their own copy, in the margin labeling any poetic devices they notice.
Once Mr. Walken has finished his reading of the poem, the students and I go through each stanza, labeling the rhyme scheme, drawing boxes around all internal rhymes, and pointing out all the poetic devices we labeled as we listened.
Paraphrasing essentially strips the poem to its simplest and least artistic form. The plot–the bones–remains, but the beauty is gone, leaving the poem a sort of skeleton, all of the flesh having fallen away. A paraphrase does perhaps make the basic information more digestible, but the language is stilted and artless without the poetic devices.
The next step in this lesson is to assign students to small groups, and assign each group three to five stanzas of the poem to paraphrase. This paraphrasing essentially strips the poem to its simplest and least artistic form. The plot–the bones–remains, but the beauty is gone, leaving the poem a sort of skeleton, all of the flesh having fallen away.
Take the stanza below, for example. It includes internal rhyme (denser and censer; lent thee, sent thee, and nepenthe), alliteration (Swung and Seraphim; foot-falls and floor; tufted and tinkled), consonance (foot-fall, tinkled, tufted, and floor), and imagery (we can imagine the scent of perfumed air and the jingling sound of little angel feet scampering across the floor).
Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
`Wretch,’ I cried, `thy God hath lent thee – by these angels he has sent thee
Respite – respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’
A paraphrase of this stanza does perhaps make the basic information more digestible, but observe how much more stilted and artless the stanza becomes:
Then I felt like the atmosphere changed; it was scented
as if angels walked across the room with perfume or incense.
‘Wretch,’ I yelled, ‘some master or demon sent you
Rest – rest and relief from my memories of Lenore!
Drink this merciful relief, and forget dead Lenore!’
The raven said, ‘Nevermore.’
After all groups have finished paraphrasing their assigned stanzas, we read the paraphrased versions aloud, in the order in which they appear in the poem, to get a complete sense of just exactly what poetic devices do for a poem.
From there, we go on to discuss the symbolism of the raven, as well as to examine the Gothic elements used in the poem, such as suspense, the dark side of humanity, etc.
In addition, I always offer extra credit in conjunction with this unit. The assignment requires students who opt to participate to visit the Poe Museum in Richmond and write a one-page, double-spaced paper about the experience.
The school year is winding down, and my students (and I!) are feeling a bit squirrely. We just took our last test of the school year on Zora Neale Hurston‘s Their Eyes Were Watching God, and there are a mere six regular school days left before final exams. So what do we do with this odd in-between that doesn’t allow enough time for another full unit, but is certainly too much time to descend into the pit of meaningless movie-watching day after day? The answer is: We write.
Now, tell that to most students, and they cringe. But I’m not talking about five-page-research-paper-in-the-MLA-format writing. I’m talking about fun writing. I know, I know. If my students remember what an oxymoron is, they’d apply it to the term “fun writing.” And of course, as a writer, I’m a bit biased; I think almost all writing is fun.
But I think my students did have fun writing today. Here is what we did:
Students will: analyze nonfiction writing; analyze authentic texts; review and identify verbs; write using strong, specific verbs; write creatively, informally, and for enjoyment; analyze the structure and elements of an authentic, nonfiction text; work cooperatively; engage in the creative process; think critically, creatively, and abstractly; share their written work aloud
several sheets of notebook paper, composition book, or spiral notebook for every student
writing utensil for each student
several copies of cooking magazines or various copies of different recipes
Put students into groups of three or four.
Pass out magazines or recipes, so that each group has two or three magazines, or at least six to ten individual recipes.
Give students five minutes in their groups to look through the recipes together, and instruct them to write down all the strong, specific cooking verbs they come across.
Each student should keep his or her own list.
After five minutes, ask the students to call out the verbs they wrote down, and write them on the board for the class to see.
Next, give students five minutes to start a new list. This time, they should write down all the units of measurement they see in the different ingredients lists.
After five minutes, ask the students to call out the units they wrote down, and write them on the board for the class to see.
Next, give students three minutes to examine the structure and format of the recipes together. They should write down elements they notice most or all of the recipes share. This should include items such as: prep time, cooking time, ingredients list, steps/process/procedure, servings, etc.
After three minutes, ask students what elements a recipe should have, and write the elements on the board for the class to see.
Explain to students that in a few minutes, they will write a recipe poem. A recipe poem is a poem that explains how to “cook” something abstract, such as a certain type of person, a certain emotion, or an experience. Give them some examples: a recipe for success, a recipe for a best friend, a recipe for the worst day ever, etc.
Give students five minutes to brainstorm together in their groups. They should write down experiences, types of people, and emotions they think they might want to describe by way of a recipe poem.
After five minutes, ask students to call their ideas out, and write them on the board for the class to see.
Remind students that their recipe poem should include all the elements of a recipe, and be formatted like a recipe. Instruct them to pick a topic, but not to tell anyone else in the class what their topic is.
Give students about 15 minutes to write their recipe poem, allotting more time if needed.
Once everyone has finished (or mostly finished) a recipe poem, instruct students to go around in their groups and read their recipe poems aloud to their group members, still withholding the subject. After each student reads, his group members should try to guess what his recipe is for. After each group member has guessed, the poet can reveal what his topic was.
After each person in each group has had a chance to share her poem with her group, ask willing students to share their recipe poems aloud with the class.
My students really seemed to enjoy this activity–so much so, that we actually have to finish tomorrow because so many students were so eager to share their poems with the class. We ran out of time!
If you’ve ever been to Richmond, Virginia, then you already know: We are a party city. We are the third most-tattoed city in the United States, just behind Miami and Las Vegas. We are fast becoming the craft beer capital of the world. And we throw a festival (or ten) almost every single weekend. This weekend alone, I attended Dominion Riverrock, an outdoor
During my time at the festival, I was privileged to hear readings and lectures from Robert Arthur, the current Poetry Society of Virginia President; Nathan Richardson, a performance poet and workshop teacher for Hampton Roads Youth Poets; Gabriele Glang, a bilingual poet who teaches creative writing in Germany; and Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda, who was the Virginia Poet Laureate from 2006-2008. This post will provide take-aways from the lectures and workshops led by Mr. Richardson, as well as by Ms. Glang and Ms. Kreiter-Foronda.
The Oral Tradition of Poetry, Nathan Richardson
The first lecture I heard focused on performance poetry, and was led by Nathan Richardson, himself a performance poet. One thing he said that struck me was this:
“Memory proved over the history of mankind to be the only fullproof [sic] method of safeguarding the thoughts, history, culture, literature, and law of the human race.”
How right he is, though it’s frightening, given how feeble our memories sometimes seem.
But even more fallible are hard drives that can crash, flash drives that can break or become lost, papers that can tear or burn, ink that can smudge, lead that can be erased. Even pictures carved into rock will someday erode, smoothed out by the work of wind and water. For me, this was something of a wakeup call. I always feel like my creations are far more secure once written down on paper or typed up on the screen. But if I lose that paper, or if that flash drive fails me, I will wish I had committed my own lines to memory.
An additional lesson I took away from Mr. Richardson’s lecture was a definition of the musical genre of rap. I was unaware, as were, it seemed, all the other poets in attendance, that the term “rap” was born of the combination of “rhythm and poetry.” It’s essentially an acronym. I also learned that one “bar” of a “rap” piece is equivalent to one couplet in a poem.
His advice for poets was simple: “In poetry, leave space for the reader’s imagination.”
He also provided guidelines for poets who need to cultivate a poetic voice for poetry readings and slams. While the ratio does not necessarily need to follow this exact formula, Mr. Richardson advises that the poetic voice consists of 33.3% experience, 33.3% vocabulary, 33.3% passion, and .1% divine intervention. What does this imply for you if you want to become involved in performance poetry? It means first, that you must perform poetry–as much and as often as you can. Attend and perform at poetry slams and readings. Get the experience. It implies second that you must increase the number of words with which you are proficient–you must become more fluent in your own first language. Improve your vocabulary. It means also that you must love what you are doing–love what you are creating, love what you are saying. Be dedicated and passionate. Lastly, though, it means that a small percentage of what you are doing as a performance poet is out of your control. The words, the ideas, the rhymes will just come to you through some sort of divine intervention. You just have to do the leg work–the other 99.9%–first.
Ekphrastic and Collaborative Poetry, Gabriele Glang and Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda
One of the foci of Ms. Glang and Ms. Kreiter-Foronda’s workshop was the haiku. Before we began writing, Ms. Glang gave a few guidelines.
Do not mention the season about which you are writing. The image you convey with your words should make clear the season.
Always title your piece, and title it well. Think of a title as a free line with no syllabic restrictions.
Save syllables in the following ways:
avoid articles; use plural nouns instead
replace conjunctions with punctuation
the em dash can communicate change, epiphany, turning points
“ah!” can signify epiphany or surprise
After providing us with these guidelines, Ms. Glang displayed a painting of her own creation, called “A Touch of Spring (Pink-Green),” pictured left, and we were given a few minutes to compose a haiku using the traditional three-line, 5-7-5 structure.
The second exercise we completed in this workshop was writing a Ligne Donnee, or “given line” poem. We were paired up with another poet in the room and provided an art card that displayed one of Ms. Glang’s paintings. The art card my partner and I received is pictured below. Each of us then wrote just the first line of a poem, inspired by the art card. Then, we traded first lines with our partner. From there, we read our partner’s first line, and wrote a poem
based on that initial line.
My first line was:
Quicksilver cold stealing sunlight from the sky, icy, metallic sheen
The final exercise we completed in Ms. Glang and Ms. Kreiter-Foronda’s workshop was another type of collaborative poem, kasen renku. Within this form, the first poet composes a haiku (three lines in the traditional 5-7-5 format). The second poet reads it, and then composes two lines of seven syllables each. A third poet (or the first poet) reads the first five lines, and adds his or her own haiku. A fourth poet (or the second poet) reads what has so far been accomplished, and adds to it another two lines of seven syllables each. This process is repeated until the poem consists of thirty-six stanzas. This, along with the Ligne Donnee form, would make an excellent classroom activity for an English or creative writing class.
I so thoroughly enjoyed the Poetry Society of Virginia’s Poetry Festival and Conference, that I plan to attend future conferences, and am contemplating membership. Attendance allowed me to meet like-minded people, as well as produce a few new pieces of poetry. I also gained exposure to some very creative and productive poets. I learned about resources in my community, and came away with a few new lessons plans for my English classroom.
About six years ago, our school produced its most recent literary magazine. This year, fellow English teacher and W.O.W blogger,Thomas Brandon, and I decided to revive it. For the first time in six years, our students have a place to come and write creatively without judgement, deadlines, or any academic pressure. It is my favorite reason to stay after school, and I think our dedicated group of about ten regular attendees probably feels the same way. Our organization is two-fold: a creative writing club that meets to learn about and practice writing, and a staff that actually creates the literary magazine from student submissions.
Thomas and I held our most recent Creative Writing Club meeting outside, enjoying one of two courtyard gardens our school maintains. Thomas, the students, and I dedicated ten minutes to each of our fives sense. We spent three minutes focusing on just one sense, beginning with sight. Then, we spent seven minutes writing about what we had experienced through that sense. Next, we closed our eyes and spent three minutes just listening, giving our focus to our sense of hearing. Then, we spent seven minutes writing about that experience. We proceeded to smell, touch, and finally, taste. It was a beautiful exercise in getting in tune with our environment and our bodies, as well as a way to practice writing description, utilizing imagery, and paying attention to detail.
Next time you feel a sense of writer’s block trying to tell you you have nothing to write about, quiet it with this exercise. Just go somewhere–anywhere–and write from the senses, devoting undivided attention to each one in its turn.
Below are the unedited (aside from typing them up), uncensored small pieces I came up with when I wrote from the senses with the students in our Creative Writing Club earlier this week.
We are in a garden tucked away in the courtyard of the school, surrounded on four sides by brick. I see an empty, gray trashcan with a collapsed lid, a seemingly abandoned spiderweb splayed across the top, gently rising and falling with each little burst of breeze. I see the abandoned plant in a pot beside the bench across from me. Someone no doubt had the best intentions of planting it, nurturing it. What happened to those intentions? I see half-begun wasp nests, also quiet and empty, not abuzz and pulsating with wings and stings and busy wasp work. Someone no doubt killed them all off, and all that’s left of their labor is a few catacombs, corridors exposed to the elements like so many empty hotel rooms when the first condemned wall comes down.
On the other side of these white brick walls there is the constant whining hum of the highway, interrupted now and again by the down-shifting of a tractor trailer, a jarring, bumpy roar. Closer in are the birds, their chirps and songs and twitters. Some are stationary, perched on branch or roof or railing. Others fly overhead, letting their cry trail behind, and down through the springtime air to land here, in my ear. The leaves above me are disturbed by a bird or squirrel or light, little breeze. There is the quiet crunch of gravel as I shift in my seat. Add finally, my own, echoey breathing, like a creature’s in a cave–deep and heavy and filling my head with a whispery, rhythmic sound.
This is the soft smell of spring. Of warmer air, sweetened by sweeping over fields of alfalfa and meadows of flowers and fresh, unassaulted, now and again reaching up with a wave to make a snatch at the breeze. This is the smell of almost-summertime. Of air baked just slightly to bring out its scent, subtle, refreshing, distracting. It is the smell of sunshine-warmed grasses and someone’s lotion, the perfume activated from heat. It is the smell of the same temperature of my nostrils, unoffensive and smooth and familiar. It is not the smell of earth or fire or favorite food. It is that fresh-air smell that reminds me I am alive, and it is good.
My foot presses hard into gravel, the ground beneath it sold and firm. The planks on the bench holding me up press into the backs of my legs; the planks against my back are unyielding. Earth using all of her forces, all of her pull, to keep me as close to her core as possible.