Billy Collins, the American poet, writes: “the trouble with poetry is that it encourages the writing of more poetry.” It is never ending, he says, until “we have compared everything in the world to everything else in the world.”¹
He then proceeds, with tongue in cheek, to illustrate the use of comparison:
“Poetry fills me with joy
and I rise like a feather in the wind.
Poetry fills me with sorrow
and I sink like a chain flung from a bridge.”
Comparisons bring the words to life. They add imagery to the emotion. Rising like a feather in the wind conjures up feelings of floating, of lightness of being and of bliss, whereas sinking like a chain flung from a bridge paints a dreary picture of desperation and hopelessness.
Poetry is filled with two key types of comparisons: similes and metaphors. I am not always 100% sure of the difference. Instead of having to Google it every time, I tried to find an easier way of remembering, and found it in my music playlists.
Simile: “My life is like an open highway” – Bon Jovi
Metaphor: “Life is a highway” – Tom Cochrane
In other words: Metaphors are the anchors of poetry that hold everything together, they are the life-blood of the poet running through the page. They are not like anything, they just are. Adding similes to a poem, however, is like adding chocolate sprinkles to a warm, milky drink.
Some of the most famous poems ever written are filled with anchors and chocolate sprinkles. Scottish poet Robert Burns declares that his love is “like a red, red rose that’s newly sprung in June.” Shakespeare, poet of poets, in Sonnet 97 laments: “How like a winter hath my absence been from thee.” Emily Dickinson beautifully describes hope as “the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words.” And what about this from Kahlil Gibran, Master of the Profound: “Trees are poems the earth writes upon the sky, We fell them down and turn them into paper, That we may record our emptiness.”
In music, anchors and chocolate sprinkles are also abundant. I found one of my favourite pieces of imagery by accident, in Al Stewart’s The Year of the Cat: “She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running/ Like a watercolour in the rain.” Vivid, beautiful and creates a masterpiece in your head. 42 years after that song was released, Vance Joy’s Take Your Time echoes the sentiment in a subtle, less chocolate sprinkle-y way: “I’ll admit I never saw you coming/ Now I see your colours running.”
And back to Billy Collins. His poem Divorce, is the type of writing I admire – saying so much in so few words, crafting a whole story through the tightly woven lines of a poem, calling upon the reader’s imagination to bring it (even more) to life:
“Once, two spoons in bed,
now tined forks
across a granite table
and the knives they have hired.”
This is poetry with depth, humour and style. Reading it is like climbing into a warm, scented bath, cold glass of champagne in hand. It is sometimes like swimming in the sea, making surprising discoveries, occasionally coming up for air and dreaming about the magic you want to create with your own chocolate sprinkles.
©2018 Seetha Dodd
¹The Trouble With Poetry, Billy Collins