Trade Secrets

A poet’s DIY kit for making things with words —

  • imagery lies just beneath the surface of “conscious” thought, which is “clothed” in language. We actually think in pictures. You’ve heard that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” right? Well, one of the goals in the pursuit of poetry is to construct mental images, or pictures, with words, so that a reader can re-create in his/her mind exactly what the poet “sees” in his/her imagination.

For example, what do you “see” when the poet says:

“street lamps gauze the town over in purple”

(from Kristen Naca’s Bird Eating Bird)

  • a metaphor strings two things together that don’t seem to have very much in common, and ties them into a (rumored) relationship by association. Through the use of the operative word, “is” the first thing is said to be the same as (or equal to) the second thing. This is one of the ways a poet gets to show off his/her “poetic imagination”. The more unlikely the pairing, the more inventive the comparison (and the resulting metaphor) is thought to be.

The formula for creating a metaphor is very simple:

Thing 1 = Thing 2

or “cheese” = “ceremony”

or “cheese is ceremony”

A useful shortcut to telegraphing information or packing a poem with “instant” meaning, metaphors quickly bring the audience “up to speed” on what’s going on, by filling them in at the cognitive level. The only way metaphors can work, though, is if the imagination of a reader makes the same connection(s) as the imagination of a writer, so that both “see” exactly what comparison is being made.

  • allusions function as poetry’s hypertext links. They can refer back to an earlier time, work of art, or cultural event. This is a poet’s way of referencing shared knowledge in a quick reminder or “memo.”

Kinda like shorthand. When you read a poem, you will link an allusion to whatever you already know about that.

For example, at the bottom of this week’s post, “Traffic Signals” there are hypertext links that connect the poem’s imagery: “the untraceable midnight       colors/ toned and slick/ a dark scaled shark just behind/ just beyond” to two different visual images — (click on the words and see what happens)

1. toned and slick

2. a dark scaled shark

This is one kind of allusion – the words link to visual images (the way the mind works, translating words back into pictures or images).

Another example occurs in the first post, “Clipped Bites,” when I said that the “fire-breathing dragon” looked above the “lavender mists of Camelot” you might have linked the word “Camelot” to something in the past. Check it out. Click on the word “Camelot”:

Did you think of this Camelot?

This, too, is an allusion to a much earlier Camelot.

Or maybe you thought of an entirely different one? One that I don’t know about yet?


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