My Creative Process: Seeing Metaphors

I’m postponing writing about my experiences at the Writers’ Institute at the University of Madison, Wisconsin for another week. For now, I’d like to address metaphor.

Jesus’ parables are extended metaphors—”an earthly story with a heavenly meaning” (Don Stewart, Blueletter Bible). For example, in “The Prodigal Son,” the wastrel son symbolizes people who abandon God and the forgiving father is a symbol for a forgiving God.

Edward Hirsch explains metaphor in A Poet’s Glossary as “a figure of speech in which one thing is described in terms of another—as when Whitman characterizes grass as ‘the beautiful uncut hair of graves.’”

A couple years ago, I found a metaphor on my window screen. Fresh globules of rain shimmered in the tiny mesh squares of the screen. Immediately, I saw the connection between the rain, the screen, and a well-known artist’s paintings. The result was “Klimt Morning.”

He paints with rain
on screen mesh 

a goddess wearing raindrops
like silver sequins. 

Tears from a thousand eyes
glint down wooden shingles 

to pool near the drain spout,
a Niagara gush, 

gathered from gutters
to water the silver mums. 

I won’t forget writing this poem because it came to me visually and whole. Normally, I conceive the bare bones of a poem, but must work for days (even weeks) before I’m satisfied.

I’ve trained myself to recognize metaphor in nature. Evergreens waving in the wind: bawdy firs kick high, show thigh or a sunrise as an orange-throated dawn. Sunrises and sunsets inspire metaphor. So does the moon. Rivers, seas, sky, flowers—what wonders nature gives us for comparison!

At age twelve, I announced to my family that I didn’t accept the trinity and was coerced into lying that I did. I thought Jehovah would send a lightning bolt to strike me and my fellow parishioners dead that spring morning. In a poem, “The Sellout,” written decades later, I describe my mother’s reaction as the lie dripped from my mouth like soured cider: From a side pew, Mother darts her eyes and scores my brainpan like a Pippin.” I could have said she gave me the evil eye, but instead, chose a metaphor that I hoped conveyed the impact of the situation.

More later about metaphor.

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