Creative Wordshops Sept 2019 Writing Newsletter

Dear writer, reader, seeker of images, believers in words
I trust you are well and writing. Two events prompt my need to return to metaphor – considered in earlier letters. Conversations fresh from the McGregor Poetry Festival and a coming-up Durban wordshop, The Great Metaphor Hunt. All is connected so all is bridged though metaphor. Linguists refer to language as dead or decayed metaphor.

When we speak we inevitably use images. “She’s had an attack of flu,” (military analogy) “That was a close shave.” “grass roots.” We aren’t even aware that we are speaking in metaphors. Because we are so used to these phrases, we don’t react. Our senses so blunted through common use. “The coldest word was once a glowing new metaphor” (Thomas Carlyle)
Another way of putting this is that our language is ‘riddled with clichés.’ Clichés are metaphoric fields that language cattle have overgrazed. A cliché, once an original original way of saying something, now through over-use has been owned by the culture.

Even politicians hack away with it. When people first heard the startling combination of words they sat up and listened. A clichéd metaphor is a blunt razor. It offered grandfather a close shave, father scraped with it, but for me its cutting edge, blunted through over-use, nicks the skin. We need to harvest fresh metaphors not buy them frozen pre-packed from the language supermarket.
In Umberto Eco’s novel, The Island of the Day Before, Roberto and his confessor stand on the castle walls. When Padre Emanuele asks Roberto what he sees, Roberto replies “Fields.” Padre responds:

My son. if you had simply said that the Fields are pretty, you would have done nothing but depict for me their greening – which I already know of – but if you say the fields laugh, you show me earth as Animate and reciprocally I will learn to observe in human Countenances all the refinements I have perceived in the fields… And this is the office of the supreme Figure of all: Metaphor.

There is an isness in metaphor. Not this is like that (simile) but this is that. Deena Metzger suggests that similes provide a safe route for describing one thing in terms of another. But “reality is not shifted. Nothing happens when we say the bird’s wings are as blue as the sky. However when we create a metaphor everything tilts; the bird made of sky…”

We discover the thrill of two ‘objects/subjects’ from seemingly unrelated worlds colliding in an electrical charge, a bolt of blue language lightning. Tree ring and thumb connect in the thumbprint of the stump. Peter Elbow, writing teacher, suggests that “every metaphor is a force-fit, a mistake… You are seeing one thought or perception through the lens of another.” We dramatise an idea… playing with space… making it larger than life. We invite the reader to do what Elbow calls ‘”cartwheels of the mind.”