- In a recent interview with The Collagist, I spoke about how metaphor is the core magic of writing. For many, metaphoric thinking comes naturally, but more and more of my students have difficulty going there. Here’s a foolproof way to fall backwards into metaphor, and if you’re trying to overcome an addiction, it can be a good substitute high.
- Acquire an orange or other fruit. Don’t do this from memory. Get the physical thing. Describe it physically using all five senses:
Look at it and describe it in extreme physical detail.
Touch it and describe.
Squeeze and chew it, listen and describe.
Smell it and describe.
Taste it and describe.
- Next write all the things you associate with this fruit: smell, color, taste, etc. This is a a very quick exercise where you do very little thinking and choosing, you just blurt. Don’t worry about whether it makes any sense. The definition of brainstorming is that no idea is wrong or stupid. Put it all down whether it makes sense or not, but keep coming back to the fruit and branch out from there.
- Answer the following questions to create metaphors. You are now being asked to free-associate like in question 2, but to go one step further…keep free-associating until you find a truly unusual correspondence between two things which on the surface are very different, but which in some essence are similar. In other words, brainstorm, but don’t always chose the first thing you come up with. Keep brainstorming until you find a certain resonance between the physical sense of the orange and the animal or thing you are comparing it to…when you find the right word, you will literally feel a sense of release or expansion in your body, an internal “ah” where the feeling and the words reverberate with each other and make each other seem bigger or more rich. If you don’t experience any of this, don’t worry, just be silly.
a) How does the smell move inside your nose?
b) If the smell was a kind of animal with a distinctive movement, what kind of animal would it be?
c) How does the taste move inside your mouth?
d) If the taste was a world event (a party, a war, a rally, a nap), what kind of event would it be?
e) What kind emotion is the color of this fruit?
f) If this fruit was a building, what kind of building would it be?
g) If you went inside this building, what would it be like?
h) If this fruit was a kind of weather, what kind weather would it be?
i) If the feeling or texture of this fruit was a certain habitat (beach, forest, desert, suburb, city), what kind of habitat would it be?
j) When you take the skin and bend it next to your ear, what does it sound like?
k) If this fruit were an instrument, what would it be and how would it sound if you played it?
l) If this orange was a form of locomotion, what would it be (a plane, a train, a flying dragon) and how would it feel to ride it?
See, who needs drugs? All the benefits and none of the side-effects.
- Now look at all this mad scribble, and pull out the best parts. Fashion some kind of statement about this in a paragraph or three, making sure that it is full of surprising images and physical descriptions and associations.
5. Now see if you can fashion this into a poem. Start with the sensory information and try to end with a leap or discovery. Here’s something I wrote from it:
This strawberry is my daughter’s pursed red mouth
that my husband fell into the day she was born
and never recovered from.
This strawberry is a song in my mouth
full and soggy as a French horn
A cellar’s cool respite on a hot
This strawberry is a furry heart, the ripped
valves of my sister’s,
The dark, blind love between my siblings that
This bruisable flesh,
this gravity’s center,
this Tibetan temple with no doors
attained only by