The other night I started reading The Good Soldier, a novel by Ford Maddox Ford. In the introduction to the novel, Max Saunders says that “Ford may have dipped his pen in his heart’s blood to write it.” This was a very startling way of saying that Ford wrote the novel using his own unpleasant personal experiences. Did Ford ACTUALLY use his own blood to write? No. Saunders was expressing himself metaphorically. A metaphor is a comparison just like a simile is a comparison, but it does not use the words “like” or “as”. If Saunders had said that Ford wrote the novel like he was using his own blood to write, that would have been a simile. It still would have meant the same thing, but he uses a metaphor instead of a simile as a richer means of comparison. He compares a writer describing a painful experience to writing with his own blood. This is much stronger, much more striking.
Another way we can define a metaphor is that, instead of saying one thing is like another, a metaphor says that one thing IS another. Here are some examples:
…the soul is a captive, treated humanely…-John Ashberry
…a whole nation of eyeless men,
Dark bipeds not aware how they were maimed…-C.S. Lewis
We are the water, not the hard diamond,
the one that is lost, not the one that stands still.-Jorge Luis Borges
Of course, these are all comparisons, not actual facts. The men in the Lewis poem were not actually eyeless, but unaware of or unwilling to face a bad situation. In the Ashberry poem, the poet is describing the arresting quality of a portrait, and how anyone who looks at it cannot help but be enchanted and intrigued. And in the Borges poem, people are compared to water, always moving and changing, not standing still like a hard diamond.
As you can see, metaphor is a very rich and effective literary technique to use. Or, you could say, metaphor is a pile of gold in an ordinary sentence. I hope you will attempt to use some metaphors in your writing, and see how much richer your writing will become.
-Teresa Sari FitzPatrick
Join Big Blue Marble Bookstore for the sixth annual Mt. Airy Kids’ Literary Festival April 13-15, a weekend-long series of readings and events featuring a cavalcade of children’s authors and illustrators. There will be arts and crafts, kids’ music, storytelling, prizes, giveaways and plenty of fun for the whole family. Events for all ages. FREE!
Featuring Brian Biggs (Everything Goes), Monica Carnesi (Little Dog Lost), Ricardo Cortes (Seriously Just Go to Sleep), Amy Ignatow (The Popularity Papers), Chris McDonnell (Sasquatch’s Big Hairy Drawing Book), Zachariah OHora (Stop Snoring, Bernard!), Matt Phelan (Around the World) and more!
Click here for the full festival schedule. Hope to see you there!
Despite the dreary weather last Saturday, local young writers, surrounded by their friends and family members, flocked to Pretzel Park in Manayunk to join in a celebration of writing! Philadelphia Stories publisher Christine Weiser was on hand to capture the action. Read event organizer Beth Kephart’s blog about the day here! And, don’t forget to pick up the spring issue of Philadelphia Stories, Junior (release date: May 12) to read the winning entries!
Australian of the lustral basin
architect adrift aloft
redesigning negative space
with Gaudi and Don Quixote…
-Vasiliki Katsarou, “Seven Women”
Last week we talked about alliteration, which is the repetition of the first letter of a word in several words of a line of prose or poetry. Today we will talk about another form of sound repetition. It’s one of my favorite literary techniques. It’s called assonance. Assonance is the resemblance of sound between syllables in nearby words arising from the rhyming of stressed vowels (e.g. sonnet, porridge), and also from the use of identical consonants with different vowels (e.g. killed, cold, culled).-(from The Concise OED). We can see the use of this technique in the poetry quoted above. We hear the repetition of the “str” sound in the first line and the “ft” sound in the second line, as well as the wonderful “a” sounds.
By the way, I wanted to let you know about one of the websites that often provides ideas and poetry for this column every week. It’s called Poetry Daily. I go to this website every day and read a poem before I start my own writing. It’s got some great stuff, and I highly recommend it to you. OK, let’s go back to talking about assonance.
You know who is really masterful at using assonance in their work? Spoken Word poets and rappers. Here’s an example or two from rappers:
If you a fighter, rider, biter, flame igniter, crowd exciter…-Dead Prez, “Hip-Hop”
If your girl is fine, she’s a dime, a suit is a vine…-Big L, “Ebonics”
And from spoken word:
Giving thanks and praises to so many names and faces
In different places…
It’s that breathlessness that inspired my tired hand
To write these endless epilogues that some call pretentious
Living verse existence surviving…
Assonance can make your poetry very musical and lyrical. It can also do the same for prose writing. I guess you could say I’m attesting to the arresting effect of ingesting the round sounds of assonance. Well, hopefully, you get the idea. And I would love to hear back from you with examples of your own. Until then…richer writing!
Teresa Sari FitzPatrick
It is important for a writer, especially a poet, to play with words. One of the easiest games we can play with words is alliteration. This is, simply put, the repetition of the first letter of each word in a line of prose or poetry. Probably the most famous example of alliteration is the line: “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers…” Of course, that line is an example of alliteration run amok. It is probably better, in your own writing, not to overdo it with the alliteration, but to use it sparingly, and with good effect. Here is a nice poetic example of alliteration, even if the author is writing about pigs:
Sows and shoats raise snouts, clotted
with slops, to sniff and watch the bucket…
-Janice N. Harrington, “Leave Nothing”
Another one of my favorite examples of alliteration comes from the poem The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe:
“And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain…”
By the way, around the time I started researching this week’s blog, The Baltimore Ravens were in the AFC championship game trying to reach the Super Bowl. Did you know that the (team) Ravens are named after The (poem) Raven? Edgar Allen Poe, who wrote the famous poem, lived in Baltimore at the end of his life. The mascot of the Ravens team is named Poe. Of course, he’s got nothing on our Swoop, but he is the only NFL mascot named after a literary author. Personally, when the Eagles are out of contention, I root for the Baltimore Ravens. It’s right to root for Ravens when practicing alliteration. Although, it is true that Philadelphia and Baltimore have had a literary battle going on for many years over the question of which city has more of a connection to Edgar Allen Poe. I’m sure it would irk sporty and literary Baltimorians more than a little to know that the actual raven who inspired the poem, which was a pet bird owned by Charles Dickens, is housed right here in Philadelphia at the Rosenbach Museum. The raven is stuffed, of course. And Poe (the poet, not the mascot) lived in Philadelphia while he was writing the world-famous poem.
Well, there we have it, all kinds of information for you today. We’ve covered alliteration, pigs, ravens and football. Please do me a favor, take all of those things and see if you can come up with a nice alliterative poem to encompass them all. Until then, I wish you richer writing.
Teresa Sari FitzPatrick