One of the beautiful skills poetry develops is the ability to describe the world in metaphor and analogy. This goes much deeper than simply making a person speak or write beautifully. It helps us articulate the connections between things, especially unexpected things, in our lives, in the world, and in our own psyches. Humans are meaning-making beings, and being able to see the relationship between things is a way of giving them meaning. Not to mention, nailing a good metaphor is super satisfying!
Playing with metaphor
There are many ways to play with comparisons in poetry. A simple one is to put an analogy in every line. Use the words “as” and “like.” My dog is as sleek as a crow. His fur is like black feathers. This makes a great poetry prompt. Try comparing things that are very different in some ways, but similar in a surprising way. Is your foot like a boat? A toddler like a rocket ship? What is the pandemic like?
Then try metaphors. An analogy compares two things by saying how they are similar. A metaphor says one thing is the other. My dog is a crow. His fur is sleek black feathers. This makes a great prompt too.
Hidden metaphors everywhere
Beyond just metaphors and analogies as we usually think about them, we use metaphorical language constantly. We can use adjectives that are metaphorical: her fiery glare, his stony silence. And we can use verbs. We don’t have to say someone is like a mouse if we describe them as squeaking or scampering. Verb metaphors can be really lively and exciting for kids, since interesting verbs inherently have so much life and movement in them. Try out different metaphorical verbs to describe the same thing: do your thoughts burn in your brain? Do they percolate? Drift? Churn? Compost? Simmer? Evaporate? Explode? Then try writing a description of something or someone using verbs that compare that thing to other things.
Speaking of metaphors, let’s talk about the dead ones: clichés. With younger kids, I tend to just encourage them to be weird and wild in their writing, which leads them away from cliché. With middle-schoolers and beyond, it can be useful to talk about cliché directly and to point clichés out in revision. You can also mention their awkward cousin the mixed metaphor, which tend to happen when you combine clichés in the same sentence, making things that are absurd if you actually picture them: don’t be a shrinking violet, just step up to the plate and rule the roost. And it can be fun to try to write a terrible poem jammed with as many clichéd and mixed metaphors as possible. Add run-on sentences, dangling modifiers, and excessive exclamation points if you feel like it. It’s a surprisingly satisfying – and difficult – challenge to intentionally write as badly as you can!
And now, a poem
The word skidaddle is a feast on a Friday night, a spring about to spring and a bow string pulled tight.
The word fly is the snip of a pair of scissors, the bright colors of a rainbow, and the silent feeling in your gut that says “go.”
The word song is the feeling of rest after you sleep, the black velvet nights and the roof on a house.