Mississippi Clarion Ledger
USA TODAY NETWORK
Metaphor can reveal truth of how we really feel
At Kroger last week, as I placed my groceries on the conveyor belt, the woman working at checkout asked me how I was. “Good, thanks,” I replied, like always, and asked how she was. “I’m good,” she said, and we smiled, and I continued loading groceries onto the belt.
Was I lying? No, not at all. Was I telling the truth? Also no. To answer her question accurately, I would have needed to say something like, “I’m fine from a big-picture perspective, and I’m really happy that it’s finally sunny today, but I’m also nervous about my dentist appointment this afternoon and honestly pretty stressed out about some deadlines coming up, and I also feel guilty for having not called my friend Jen back from three days ago. Still, I just started reading an amazing book and these strawberries look delicious, so, you know, lots of good stuff, too.”
I didn’t say any of that, of course. Nor did the woman give me her own truthful response. We just said we were good, and smiled, and kept on with our tasks.
Our day-to-day lives don’t provide us with a lot of opportunity to give truly accurate responses to the “how are you?” question. Even when we’re talking to someone with whom we’re genuinely close, it can be difficult to explain everything we’re carrying at a particular moment.
That’s where poetry enters the picture. In a poem, we don’t need to spell out exactly what we’re feeling and why. Instead, we can use metaphor and imagination to share an accurate—and surprising—version of ourselves.
This Month’s Poetry Break: Truth Through Metaphor
My favorite definition of metaphor comes from Robert Frost, who defined it as “saying one thing in terms of another.” Metaphor can be a wonderful way to convey a feeling that straightforward description can’t quite capture, and it’s the basis for this month’s prompt.
How are you feeling today, right at this very moment? If you were a dog, would you be a yapping chihuahua bouncing to see out the front door, or an old Lab placidly gnawing a bone on the couch? If you were weather, would you be a hurricane or a sun shower?
Think about how you might describe yourself through the language of animals, or food, or nature. Feel free to provide some detail about your answers, or to simply let your list stand on its own. Give your poem a title. Most importantly, have fun with it—this prompt, like much writing, works best when it comes from a place of play.
Start your poem with “Today I am,” and then go from there, choosing from the list below in any order or making up your own metaphors.
Today, I am a:
–kind of fruit
–kind of dog
–kind of instrument
–kind of weather phenomenon
–kind of insect
–kind of car
–kind of furniture
–a certain highway or street
–a certain body of water
Today I am a terrier giddy with squirrels and sun.
Today I am a honkytonk piano, slightly out of tune but loud as ever.
I am a bumblebee, bright and buzzing.
A ’57 Chevy, mint condition, with fins.
I am the ocean on a windless summer day, nothing but blue, blue, blue.
See what you discover when you look at yourself through these unexpected lenses. Are you feeling like a string quartet today, or a dented tuba? Are you a silent soaring eagle or a squawking seagull? Enjoy your explorations. Write your life.
Catherine Pierce is the Poet Laureate of Mississippi and the author of four books of poems, most recently Danger Days. She co-directs the creative writing program at Mississippi State University.