Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

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Poetry Sunday: Metaphor and Simile, Tools of the Trade

April 29, 2012

Poetry can serve many purposes with the emotions and meanings it conveys.  Some are sad, while others are happy.  Some take us deep into thought while others make us smile at some little point we’ve overlooked.  The point is poetry has a story to tell.  It is the poet’s task to tell the story in a way the reader understands.  This is where metaphor and simile lend a hand.

Though often confused, the two are quite different.  For example, to explain it with a metaphor, one might say, “simile is metaphor with an attitude,” while stating it as a simile, it might read, “Metaphor is like simile.”  In the first case, it states the two things are the same, in a point of view, in the second case, it states they are similar in general.

Of course neither is limited to poetry, though that is where they take up residence most of the time.  One of the most famous metaphors of all time comes from Shakespeare’s play As You Like It[i],

“All the world’s a stage.”

We know the world is not literally a stage but we treat it as if it were by our actions.  In this case, metaphor’s exaggeration helps us understand the

William Shakespeare

point.  Sometimes, such exaggeration gets in the way of understanding.  It makes no sense to say, “He found his way through the maze, after all, all mice are elephants.”  Showing the elephants and mice are the same is just too large a leap.  This is where simile takes over.

Using a simile to compare, you could write the prior statement as “Elephant like, the mouse remembered his way through the maze.”  The simile counts on us knowing elephants have good memories.  It shows mice are similar to elephants in that way.  However, without knowing the point about elephants, the simile has no meaning to the reader.  Simile counts on prior knowledge, metaphor tends to explain itself.  Returning to the Shakespeare quote, it goes on to tell us just how the world is a stage:

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances.”

In his metaphor, Shakespeare explains what he means by his statement about the world being a stage.  Even without knowledge of what the stage actually refers too, we understand his meaning.    We can see his point and accept the whole of the world as a stage.  To state the same thing in a simile, you could write:

“Like actors on a stage, people come and go from our lives.”

Somehow, it just does not have the same impact.  In this case, to understand it, we need to know actors enter and leave the stage.  Shakespeare’s metaphor shows us, without knowing anything about actors or stages.  It is up to the poet to know when to use which form of allegory, it is up the reader to judge the poet’s success.

In poetry, similes are somewhat limited to a direct statement in a stanza within a line or two.  Metaphors can do the same but the poem as a whole can act as a metaphor.  In my poem Kite, I use metaphors throughout to describe the attachments in a relationship but the poem as a whole serves as a metaphor on relationships.

With the fairest of breezes,
off I go!  I take to flight.
A silken twine holds me fast
looking back, it leads to you.

You, only you hold the twine,
I rise further to the sky
until no sight of you’s left,
still, the twine holds me to you.

Drunkenly I ride the breeze
knowing that you set my course.
I reach for the high-up clouds
and then strain against your grasp.

Soon whipping winds have me caught,
and they sing upon the twine.
A song we both hear and know,
a sorrowful, wailing song.

Damage done – the string does part
and I flail within a cloud,
leaving you there, holding twine.
Stringy, stretched, useless twine.

You stand there, left wondering |
and I’m lost within the sky.
The twine floats back, back to you
and I’m numb without it there.

Away I fall lost to you
as I crash upon some tree,
leaving you with tangled twine –
the folly of flying kites.

The silken twine is the connection between two people in a relationship.  The kite serves as one person and the kite flyer serves as the other.  Wind acts as the turmoil couples encounter that pulls on the kite string.  Then the whole of kite flying serves as the whole of a failed relationship.  Unlike Shakespeare, I did not explain my metaphoric connections in the poem, as most people will see the links to their own relationships.  That is the great thing about being a poet; we get to make the choice.

Similes are more for simple comparisons.  It is an “A is like B” sort of thing.  For example, in my poem June Bug, I compare bugs getting too close to a light to Icarus.

On a starless night filled with haze
a porch light shines alone.
A yellow-pale reflects on dust
some breath of wind has blown.

And there I sit upon a swing
that moans its off-key sound.
Soon I’m joined by a million wings
that charge this light they’ve found.

They fly a path that’s drunkard-straight
imbibing on the light.
They dare to get but just so close
then escape away with fright.

The light has magic to a point
as they dart and flit around.
But, if to close they dare approach
like Icarus they find ground.

So there I sit and watch the sight
as they swarm and dance in air.
with too much fuss they chase the night
inspired by a porch light’s glare.

Of course, you need to know the mythical story of Icarus for the reference to work, so again, simile counts on prior knowledge, as explaining that myth is a poem all unto itself.  Did you see the direct metaphor I used?  There is one, but in this case, it is what I call a moronic metaphor as it directly disputes itself.  That is a hint by the way.

So both metaphor and simile have a fundamental role in poetry.  They are tools in the poet’s toolbox.  The poet needs to understand when to use which one; the reader needs to know how to connect the dots.   They both add depth to poetry specifically and all forms of communication in general.  Comparison is the way we understand things and that is exactly what they do, they compare.

 

On a side note:  Kite is an example of blank verse.  Blank verse will be the topic of next week’s post.  If you are not familiar with blank verse, read it over again knowing there is something more to it that free verse.  See if you pick up its natural cadence. 


[i] Shakespeare, William. “As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7.” The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. The Tech, MIT. Web. 29 Apr. 2012. <http://shakespeare.mit.edu/asyoulikeit/full.html>.

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Freelace Friday: I Answered Yes

April 27, 2012

This is a story I wrote a few years back that recounts on of the major turning points in my life.  I often wonder how my life would differ had I made different choices back then.  Don’t get me wrong, I would not change a thing, just something to ponder at times.  I think most people have similar stories in their lives, but most will not take the time to write them down.  That is a true shame too, as seeing events others face helps us see we are not as alone in life as we might think.  Besides, it’s sort of fun for people to see a side that is not always visible in the adult version of us.  

 

I Answered Yes!

“Yes,” I replied after a moment of reflection.  The damage was done; there was no use in caving in at that point.  Now looking back, it seems strange that, even at seventeen, I understood how such a mistake would turn into a blessing.  At well past forty, I see it as the pivotal turning point in my life – I answered “yes” in a loud clear voice.

To say I was independent as a teenager is being kind.  The truth is I was horribly rebellious and self-centered.  Ok, all teens are to a point but what I ended up doing took it to a completely new level.  No one could have guessed that by the end of the school year, so much would change.  I had always been one to push the limits, this time I simply blew past the limits like an Indy race care driver rounding the last turn and heading for the checkered flag.  You have to keep in mind, this was a time before classroom shootings, and such horrible events would dwarf anything I would do.  It was the last days of innocence all the way around.

The year started off pretty well, I was a junior, and things looked bright.  No longer was I on the bottom half of the feeding pool.  High school does have its pecking order, not only within the grade you’re in but between grades too.  Being in the first two years just makes you all the more a target.  I did not run with the “in” crowd to begin with, so now at least, I had a few years behind me.

In school, I did not have to apply myself much to get by.  Studying was easy for me but I found it to be boring.  Boring was something I did not do; besides, I was just arrogant enough to think I knew everything there was to know by that point in life.  What I needed was excitement, something to make life interesting.  Soon I would have all the “interesting” I could handle.

On that first day, Katrina caught my eye.  She was tall, beautiful and spoke with a heavy German accent, which made her even more exotic to me, sort of like Marlene Dietrich.  She was an exchange student attending that year.  We only had one class together – chemistry with Dr. Lamb.  I made my mind up then to see if she was the interesting bit I was looking for.

Without question, Dr. Lamb was a fascinating man and one of the most influential teachers in my life.  As a young man, he worked his way though college playing jazz piano in New Orleans.  To look at him you would not think it as he was round, bald, with fat little fingers and covered from chest to knee in chalk dust all the time.  He was the quintessential “lab coat nerd” one would expect to teach chemistry.  That is until he sat behind a piano.  He blew us away one day at a pep rally.  At first, we could not believe he was really playing like that, but he was.  I heard him play many times after that and he never fell short of being perfect.  He was amazing.  Dr. Lamb was one of the few people I had any respect for then.  Seeing his abilities in more than one area of interest opened my eyes to my own possibilities, without regard to the boundaries other might set.  I mean if this overweight, nerdy, white guy could earn his chops with the hard-nosed jazzmen of Greater New Orleans, I figured the door for whatever I wanted was open too.

Back in Dr. Lamb’s chemistry class, with some quick maneuvering on my part, I wound up at the lab table with Katrina.  I knew that meant we would be lab partners.  Katrina not only was attractive, she was smart, smart enough to read me right from the start, that point notwithstanding, we soon became an item and she did look good in my letter jacket.  Katrina stayed with a family a few houses down from us on East Beach.  St. Simons Island back then was not the place it is today.  It had more woods than homes.  Children had the freedom to roam the island at will and there was lots of room.  The beach was a major travel route for teens and a good place to raise some hell and not get too much attention.  I loved living on the beach.

In chemistry, we all had to pick projects to take on and had to keep lab books we would turn in each week for review.  We had to do a write up on the project we wanted and have it approved.  My first idea was a chemical form of perpetual motion.  Of course, I knew it would work but Dr. Lamb had his doubts.  As he put it, “I don’t think it will work, but right now for the life of me I can’t figure out why so you can give it a try.”  Turns out, he was right, but it did start the ball rolling for later events.

As the year went on, I was constantly in trouble over Katrina.  More than once, we were caught in compromising situations at both her home and mine and one time on the beach by the police.  Of course, I was grounded but as I had a balcony outside my window, it was an easy jump to the sand and I was on my way down the beach to see her again.  It had gotten to the point where the school was going to send her home for fear of her becoming pregnant.  Then, Dr. Lamb took me aside and put some reality in my mind.  Rather than speak to me with authority, he simply laid out the facts and told me to make a judgment on how my behavior would affect Katrina the rest of her life.  This was the first time anyone left it to me to figure something like that out.  They agreed that she could stay, if I would stop seeing her.  Neither of us was happy about it and I do not think she really understood why I agreed to it.  I’m not sure I did either; I just knew I had to.

So, I was unhappy with breaking up with Katrina, unhappy with the school, pretty much unhappy with life.  That is about the time my chemistry project finally fell apart, Dr. Lamb suggested I look over all the research and see if any part could be used for other purposes.  He said most progress came from the ruins of other ideas.  For me, it was at least a glimmer of hope.  Not may people can put their finger on an even that changed their life.  Turns out, this failure was the starting point of an even that would drastically change mine.

One aspect of my research involved better energy transfer in chemical processes.  I thought there might be something interesting to look for there, the nerd in me coming out.  Soon, I had reshaped my project for such improvements.  All chemical reactions release some form of energy.  That is basically how nuclear power works, albeit with physics.  Reactors make heat, heat makes steam, and steam runs turbines to make electricity.  I was looking to apply the same logic to chemical reactions.  It did not take people long to understand that nuclear energy had another use, a darker use – nuclear bombs.  Nor did it take me long to come to the same conclusion about my work.

I was pretty impressed with how quickly Dr. Lamb figured out what I was up too.  I did not refer to chemical bombs, explosions, or anything like that in my notes but by the end of the first week of my reshaped project, he was giving me another talking to, this time, he forbid from even designing the equations for such things.  He warned me it was simply too dangerous.  In hindsight, that may not have been the best thing to tell me.  I started a duel project in secret.  I would apply what I learned in class and worked out the equations and formulas on my own.  In the end, I could only do the research as the materials needed for such things were under lock and key in the chemistry lab.

Again, there I was, seventeen years old, frustrated over the loss of Katrina, frustrated with the school, frustrated with being grounded (without Katrina, there was little point in sneaking out), and frustrated that the only thing that had my interest seemed beyond my reach.  Funny thing about frustration, it too is like a chemical reaction, it builds up energy until it has to be released.  That release came one night during a school basketball game.

Earlier that day, I had devised a plan to leave one of the windows open in the chemistry lab.  It was easy to make the window look locked while it was still open.  I did need an accomplice at that point, as I was too large to shimmy over the wall and through the dropped ceiling tiles between the lab and the locked supply room.  I will not name my accomplice here (you’re welcome, M-), but had he known what I was up to, I don’t think he would have gone along with it.  The stage was set.

During the game, we slipped into the lab, then into the supply closet and soon my device (let’s call it a device) was finished, all we needed – a place to test it.  I did not know just how powerful the device would be.  I mean I knew the numbers from my calculations, but to what end?  Numbers can only take you so far, until you put a tangible scale to them, numbers mean nothing.  That scale was coming.

We went to the near by pond and without much thinking, threw it in.  What happened next was beyond my wildest expectations.  The device went off with the loudest explosion I have ever heard.  Later in my military life, the explosions in combat came a close second to what I heard that night.  Of course, I was much closer to mine than I ever was in combat.  The blast took us off our feet, a water plume rose at least 75 feet high, there was a blinding light of every color possible, the percussion took the air from our lungs, and we felt like a boulder had hit us.  After the steam cleared and we picked ourselves up, the water level in the pond was down about a foot or so.  What was worse, we could not hear.  Thank God, that cleared up.  Later we learned the basketball game, some half-mile away, stopped to find out what had happened.

Needless to say, we did not get away clean.  It did not take long at all for the truth of the matter to come out.  So there I was, if front of a peer review board (that’s how they do it in private school, they gather your friends together and they throw you out!) of four students and four teachers.  I took the lion share of the blame as that was fair.  Besides, Dr. Lamb knew the truth of it and I dared not disappoint him more than I had already.  At my hearing, for lack of a better word, Dr. Lamb spoke in my defense.  He said it would be wrong to end my scholastic career for being overly exuberant.  Here’s where a difference of opinion came in.  Dr. Lamb and I saw it as simply an unauthorized experiment gone wrong, everyone else saw it as breaking and entering with intent to destroy.  Luckily, for me, it was a different time back then.  If today, I am sure the FBI would want to have chatted, as it was, school was enough.

In school, I had two teachers I really admired; of course, Dr. Lamb and the other was William “Wild Bill” Coursey.  I owe my interest in writing to him.  I had the pleasure of being in Mr. Coursey’s English and literature classes all thought high school.  His classes were anything but boring; he looked like Walt Whitman in his younger years and could bring the driest classic to life.  Shakespeare was even a hit with teenaged boys under his guidance; he referred to Bard as “Good ol’ Bill Shakespeare.”

It was Mr. Coursey who presided over the day’s events, somehow that made the whole of it tolerable to me.  After all was said and a short deliberation, Mr. Coursey delivered the news – I was no longer welcome as a student.  Rather than belittling me or trying to make some moralistic point, he simply asked me one more question, “Do you think it was worth it?”  After taking my moment, I replied “yes!”  Then explained that right then the answer was no, but I was sure as years past, it would be absolutely yes.

Now as my life has moved on to many wonderful places and adventures, I can honestly say being kicked out of school was the watershed event that made me whom I am today.  I would not trade it for anything.  Mr. Coursey, I was right, the answer is still a strong, loud, absolute “Yes!”

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I need a topic for Saturdays

April 21, 2012

Ok, I need your help.  I have been racking my brain for a good Saturday topic to blog about.  The rest of the week is pretty much covered.  There is Poetry Sunday, Political Monday, Geographic Tuesday, Civics Wednesday (I know I did not make a post for it yet, it is in the works), Thursday’s Heroes and Freelance Friday, but nothing for Saturday. 

I’ve thought about cooking, I like to cook, but do I need a day for it?   

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Why Write Poetry

April 14, 2012

photo courtesy of National Park Service, via Wikipedia

Poets may not change the world, but we do start the quiver in the snow that leads to the avalanche of change. That is enough for me.

-MH Benton

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Poetry Sunday – Sonnets, A Bit Harder but Well Worth the Effort

April 1, 2012

Sonnets are one of the harder forms of poetry to master.  To make matters even more muddled, there are many forms of sonnets.  In the United States, when we think of sonnets, it is the English, otherwise known as the Shakespearean, form we think of.  Other popular sonnet styles are Italian, Occitan, Spenserian, Modern, and many others.

I like Shakespearean most, but when I write them, I modify the style a bit.  A classic Shakespearean sonnet uses three quatrains and a couplet with a rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG and a meter in the iambic pentameter style.  To put that into English, each stanza rhymes every other line and no two stanzas use the same rhyming words as other stanzas.  Further, each line is ten syllables long in most cases with a natural strong stress on the even syllables.  This is where the word foot comes in.

Iambic means the syllables of a line are grouped in pairs with the stronger stress on the end syllable.  One of the best examples comes from one the Bard’s plays:

“To be, or not to be, that is the question:[i]

It is hard to read lines like this from Hamlet in anything other than its Iambic form.  The words are naturally stressed on the even syllables.  With the stressed syllables emphasized, it looks like this:

 “To be, or not to be, that is the question:”

Remember, the line is from his play and in his plays the lines do not always contain the right number of syllables. Such is the case with the example, but it does illustrate extremely well the proper use of iambic meter.

The syllable group is called a foot.  Some groups have two syllables, and some have three or more. In the Shakespearean Sonnet’s case, there are ten syllables making up five iambic pairs or five feet. The word for five feet in a line is pentameter and when the two work together it is called iambic pentameter.

While this is not the technical definition, it works for a general understanding of how Shakespearean Sonnets work.  Here is one of William Shakespeare’s famous examples, simply titled Sonnet 18:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

 

You can see Uncle Bill’s (Shakespeare is every poet’s good ol’ Uncle Bill) use of the rhyme scheme and meter.  We must give deference to the changes in language since then that makes the rhymes seem forced in some cases.

Another writing device used in most sonnet forms is the “turn,” or volta, as poets like to call it.  By the way, volta means time or turn in Italian.  This turn is a distinct change in the thought and flow of the poem.  While it is not a spelled out rule, many poets place the turn in the third quatrain (stanza) and return from the change in the ending couplet.  Shakespeare placed his volta at the couplet and so do I.  It really is up to the poet.

While Shakespeare is one of the true masters of the form, I find sticking to a constant meter (iambic pentameter for instance) does not blend well with modern though and speech patterns.  I like to break the quatrain into couplets with the first line having four feet and the last having three.  It just reads easier to me and gives the work a more song-like quality.  Here is one of my sonnets for example:

The Day I Found You

We sat upon a swing that day
and made the world our own
We talked with more than words could say
with seeds our thoughts had sown

For love began upon that swing
our souls became as one
For us the world had joys to bring
through this life that we’ve run

I look back now, that day I see
and know I found my soul
It’s from life’s dark you set me free
and with your love, made whole

I love you for you, but really much more
you taught me to love, you opened love’s door

So, why not take out your pen and give a sonnet a try.  It is the first day of National Poetry Month after all!  Pick a classic style or modify one and I did.  It is up to you.  The point is to create something that is uniquely you, something that expresses your feelings and thoughts.  I know some of you are thinking “eeew – I can’t write a mushy love poem.”  The good news is sonnets can be about anything, it is the style of the poem, no its subject matter, for example:

What Stars Know

The far off lights that paint the sky
as dark does veil the Phoebus stage
and the crescent moon’s winking eye
do know the truth of wars we wage

For land, for God, for things profound
we give as reasons why we fight
but orbs up high retort the sound
of angry words proclaiming right

Tis death and pain that man does sow
upon this home, our home – the earth
the cost exceeds what we can know
are we so vain to set life’s worth?

To learn from stars is what we must do
Live and let live is the path that’s true

 Sonnets are harder to write, that is certain.  Once you do, you will understand the fun of it.  The rules make the game fun, but like with any game you must practice before you become good at it.  Write well, write often!


[i] “Hamlet.” – Act 3, Scene 1 by William Shakespeare. Web. 01 Apr. 2012.
<http://www.shakespeare-literature.com/Hamlet/8.html>.

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National Poetry Month

March 29, 2012

Here is a little poem to celebrate April being National Poetry Month and help get you in the mood to write one for yourself.  It really does not matter if you are a poet or not, give it a try.  You may just surprise yourself.  Feel free to post any you write here in response, I would love to read them.

National Poetry Month

April’s here and the time has come
to dust off that mighty pen
scribe a few lines and pick a plum
that rhymes as the lines do end

Give us your thoughts on many things
whatever comes to mind
Then you will fly as birds with wings
and freedom you soon will find

We need your words to fill the cup
allowing our souls to drink
takes little time to fill it up
then causing our minds to think

Believe it or not, a poet’s there
sleeping deep within your soul
So take a chance and show your flair
and let your words take control

You can read more about National Poetry Month at Poets & Writers.org at this link: http://www.poets.org/page.php/prmID/41

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Short on Time

March 29, 2012

I am in the middle of a nice blog post right now but short on time.  I hate it when the requirements of life interfere with my writing.  Oh, well, it must be done.  I will post a blog sometime today, just not sure when.

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