Friday, February 25, 2011

Metaphors, Similes, Panic in Picture Books, and Bathing a Dog--all! Happy Poetry Friday!

Happy Poetry Friday and howdy to all February Picture Book Marathoners!  You can do it, you can do it--you can, you can!

Similes.  Metaphors.  You know them well.

Similes compare two unlike objects using "like" or "as": That dog is like a lump of clay--he never chases balls.

Metaphors, in contrast, don't: That dog, a lump of clay, never chases balls. Or simply, That lump of clay never chases balls.
Eli being a lump of clay.
"Metaphor" sounds like someone saying, "May the Force," doesn't it?  (It does if you tilt your head sideways and sing LALALA really loudly...)  Their force, their power can create vivid images in our minds.

When I was writing It's Not My Turn To Look For Grandma!, my editor asked me to clarify that the story starts at sunrise and ends at sundown.  I had no idea how to communicate this without being too wordy or clunkily obvious.  I was actually pretty frightened.

I flailed about.  My flailing is not pretty.  Want to see what it looks like close up?  This Monday I had a boatload of writing to do in the afternoon.  But first I had to have lunch--I mean, c'mon.  Since I was a little lost and didn't quite know how to start any of the projects looming over me, another helping of veggies and rice seemed like a jolly good idea and oh, that left-over clam chowder sure looked yummy.
After my large lunch, the flailing continued.  I had a poem due and no ideas.  None. Nada.  I lead a pretty pathetic little life, I decided.  Except for the dog park and the gym, I'd had no human contact.  So I looked around my room.  Eli was a lump of clay on the love seat--no help there.

I was too lazy to actually stand up and walk to my bookshelf (sometimes I'm inspired by the pattern or subject of other poems).  There was a lemon next to my computer because I'd picked it from our tree and meant to drop it off in the kitchen but brought it into my office instead.
Not to make those of you shivering under snow jealous or anything, but this is our Meyer lemon tree right this very minute.
A lemon.  Hmmm.  So I wrote a poem about the lemon.  That lemon saved my day.

But back to my book and how to show time passing.  I flailed (picture a woman with eight arms, frantically waving them in all directions--yeah, that's me...).  I think I did some brainstorming.  Or maybe I opened the refrigerator and took out an egg.  I don't remember.  The key is that in the middle of this kind of panic, I know one thing: I've got to keep my eyes and ears open to any gifts the universe may be giving me.

I made a hard boiled egg.
My mind began to play.  What if the sun were an egg?  This turned into my scaffolding upon which I could hang time passing. Here's what I sprinkled throughout the story:
  • Dawn was just cracking over the hills.
  • Noon was sizzling like an egg in a cast-iron pan.
  • Afternoon clouds scrambled in the sky.
  • Shadows were eating up the day.
No one notices this as they are reading the book.  But it helped me stop flailing and begin writing.  

Are you flailing?  Maybe the Writing Workout below will help.

Writing Workout ~ Metaphors and Similes

In the poem below, I used the metaphor of war.  There are battle images in each stanza.  Which are similes?  Which are metaphors?

by April Halprin Wayland

My sister and I are pushing a big aluminum tub
across our brick patio to the grass
sounding like a tank rolling towards war.

I hold the hose and she turns the spigot.
Water thunders into the tub like a drum roll
filling it up.
we find him trembling behind bushes,
We pull our prisoner across the yard,
his head down,
his paws gripping the passing grass;
then, my sister, because she is older,
lifts him above the tub...
and with a long sigh, he surrenders.
This poem was included in the book, Poems for Brothers, Poems for Sisters selected by Myra Cohn Livingston (Holiday House, 1988)

So here's your assignment: go into your bathroom and look for gifts from the universe.  Could that bar of soap be a hunk of cheese or the remote control of a Martian space ship?  Is the bathtub a giant stew pot...and are you part of the stew? What could a toothbrush be?  The toilet?  Shaving cream?  A liquid soap dispenser?  If the bathroom doesn't trigger ideas, take your Metaphor and Simile Search to the rest of the house.  Is the stove a creature with four eyes?

Once you have a few fresh ideas, pick one and write a poem or start a picture book.  Dive in--and metaphors be with you!
poem, drawings and photos of our lemon tree and of Eli on the love seat (c) April Halprin Wayland


Megan K. Bickel said...

Great post and fun assignment! I'm totally doing this today!

Carmela Martino said...

Love this post and your poem, April! Metaphors be with you too. :-)

Sara said...

Ha! Love Eli's pose of repose.

Great idea for a workout today. I'll be looking with fresh eyes today...

Leslie Bulion said...

Wonderful post, April (with thanks to Laura Purdie Salas for pointing the way). LOVED playing poetry tag with you!

Jean Reidy said...

I'm always looking for methods for creating fresh similes and metaphors. When I come across a perfect one in a story I'm reading, I'm blown away with envy. Now I know to take a walk around my house (especially the bathroom) to look for that those crazy comparisons that just might lead to some top-notch imagery.

April Halprin Wayland said...

So glad you're going to do this exercise, Megan. And howdy, Carmela, Sara (thanks for hosting Poetry Friday, Sara, at:

Loved playing Poetry Tag with you, too, Leslie(we'll have something to announce about this soon!)

Laura Purdie Salas is talking about looking at things with a fresh eye today, too:

Enjoy the metaphor walk-about, Jean--it makes me feel like I'm walking around my house on my hands, looking at things in new ways...

Sandy Brehl said...

What a helpful (and fun) post to re-energize my marathon efforts. Several little embers have been banked in the back of my mind this month but would not flare up. Now I have three to work with today. Thank you! Loved the poem, and the egg analogy.

April Halprin Wayland said...

Glad to be of service, Sandy! That's exactly what TeachingAuthors set out to do ~ Happy Writing!

Megan Frances Abrahams said...

Feeling rather lump of claylike about writing lately, I was just thinking about the need to infuse some more metaphors and similes into my WIP. Thank you for the inspiration.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, April. You have a talent for sparking imagination in writers young and not-so-young!

Ann Wagner

Carlie said...

What a great assignment! You're on! Love the fact that you were saved by your lemon and I AM totally jealous that you have that tree spilling fruit on you in February.

April Halprin Wayland said...

Howdy, Megan, Anne and Carlie...thank you so much for taking the time to comment. It warms all of the TeachingAuthors' hearts!

Mary Lee said...

It's easy to see similes and metaphors packed into the tiny package of a poem. Thanks for the insight into how they might get woven into a longer piece!

April Halprin Wayland said...

You're right, Mary Lee...I hadn't thought about how different it is to incorporate metaphors and similes in PBs verses poems. Thanks for stopping by!