writing with metaphors and similes

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Metaphoric Push-Ups


Easily the most difficult exercise you can practice in poetry is the metaphoric push-up. Leave your like’s and as’s in the cupboard, why don’t you, and point-blank tell the world how this is that, knowing full well that this isn’t that, but the audacity of saying so works. Somehow. Against all odds. Thus, the burn in your creative muscle.

To start, choose something simple. Or unusual. Does it matter? Simplicity and complexity are each malleable. Silly Putty under the kneading thumbs of a child. Play-Doh with its grainy smells of yellow and red and blue. A floury ball of dough in the fine sinewy hands of a baker. Proteus the Shape-shifter would be pleased with all this. His diet is metaphor with milk, three times a day.

Before you have fun, you can read this William Matthews poem called “The Snake.” How many ways can you describe something you take your eyes off of (and your feet away from) ipso fasto every time you come across it? Or, in Matthews’ case, something you can’t take your eyes off of because snakes are a form of hypnosis?

Rhetorical questions, of course. Many, many ways, as shown here. See which metaphor (or rogue simile) you like best:


“The Snake”
by William Matthews

A snake is the love of a thumb
and forefinger.
Other times, an arm
that has swallowed a bicep.

The air behind this one
is like a knot
in a child’s shoelace
come undone
while you were blinking.

It is bearing something away.
What? What time
does the next snake leave?

This one’s tail is ravelling
into its burrow—
a rosary returned to a purse.
The snake is the last time your spine
could go anywhere alone.



Perhaps he saved the best for last, but Matthews really outdoes himself in the last stanza. You know. That bit about the snake returning to its burrow being a rosary slipping back into a purse.

My God and hers, it reminds me of my grandmother, the last person I know to actually use rosary beads, and use them she did. Each bead. Religiously. Doing praying push-ups, which are something  *like* metaphoric ones: a work out well worth the effort. Or so I like to think, imagining my grandmother in heaven, where she belongs.