Poem in Your Pocket Day is a day to celebrate poetry, created by the Academy of American Poets. It’s a day to share a favorite poem that you carry with you. I’m using my blog as my virtual pocket and will share one of my favorite Psalms.
“I lift my eyes to the hill — where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”
I added figurative language to my theme of poetry for this month because good figurative language is a poetry of its own. Figurative language draws me into a story like no other literary device. If an author comes up with a simile so perfect that I can instantly imagine it, or if he uses personification in such a funny way that I burst out laughing, he’s hooked me. I’ll keep reading in the hope I will find more literary treasures.
Because I enjoy reading figurative language so much, I love working it into my own writing. The more I’ve written, the more I realize how critical crafting original yet relatable phrases is to my storytelling and to connecting with readers.
Here are three reasons why I love figurative language.
Pity the poor adverb. For years, he thought he was a respectable member of the English language, and now suddenly, he’s barred from all professional writing like he’s a paroled felon. The only people who give him work are elementary school teachers during grammar lessons and high schoolers writing their first novels.
As much as I wish I could use adverbs regularly, (HA! Slipped in another one) the ban on them has forced me to develop my skills at concocting figurative language.
In my upcoming short story, “A Rose from the Ashes”, the main characters is speaking with the county sheriff during a church dinner. The sheriff has volume control problems. But I can’t write “The sheriff said loudly.” So I came up with “I sat back. His baritone was pretty powerful for just one-on-one conversation, but sometimes he seemed to forget he was indoors and not issuing orders to deputies at a busy intersection.”
It’s much longer, but it’s more colorful and also shows how the main character perceives the sheriff.
And speaking of characters …
To keep my readers in the head of my main character, I create figurative language appropriate for him or her. The main character in “A Rose from the Ashes” is Rae Riley, a nineteen-year-old amateur photographer. Her hobby influences her perception. She describes the harsh overhead lighting at the library where she works : “Why did every public place have to be lit like an operating room? Nobody needed to see the lint in the carpet or the bumps in the drywall.”
The figurative language does double duty. It lets the reader imagine the scene and get to know Rae a little better.
If a story can handle humor, I say put it in. Figurative language is a wonderful, and often easy, way to add it.
In the short story “Elk Magic”, Patrick F. McManus takes the idiom “beside ourselves” and twists it. As he travels into the Colorado mountains for an elk hunt, he rides in the cab of a truck with hunting guide Paul and fellow hunter Russ. “On several occasions, both Russ and I were beside ourselves with excitement, which made for a pretty crowded pickup cab.”
Readers understand the excitement of the hunters, and a well-worn phrase is given new life.
What are some memorable lines of figurative language you’ve read or written?
In the past year, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to write short poems for this blog. All that work has made poetry much more to me than just fun or a break from my prose pieces, although those perks are important too. Below are 4 lessons from writing poetry as an amateur poet.
Poetry forces me to target my subject
Since I write short poems, my subjects can’t be epic battles or a narrative. I have to choose a single thing, usually nature or a month or a feeling, and home in on it. If I lose focus, the words don’t come, or if they do, they run on and on. When I was working on the haiku for Monday’s prompt, I had many false starts. Then I realized I was trying too hard to say something grandiose. When I zeroed in on simply what shoots do in the spring, almost like a reporter listing the facts, the words came.
Poetry makes me succinct
In short poems, every word must carry its weight and work to maximum effect. In haiku, every syllable counts. No room for lazy words that just fill up space, expecting the other words to support it. To be that succinct, I have to scrutinize my subject and dig deep to uncover my true feelings and thoughts about it. Once I bring those to the surface, finding the right words grows easier.
Poetry shows me the world in a different way
My writer’s mind usually sees the world in terms of character, setting, and plot. When I want to write poetry, I have to view it through feelings or thoughts or simply as a snapshot of reality. That’s how I view my poems. As snapshots. My novels and short stories are movies. None are better than the others. Each art presents the world in a unique way.
Poetry connects me to other people
It’s hard to share my novels and short stories. Readers have to make a commitment to get through them. But poetry is a creative outlet, something of myself, I can share now and exchange a smile or laugh or thought or remark with readers. It’s a wonderful way to get a discussion started.
And as a way to get the discussion started — do you write poetry? Why? What have you learned from it?