Sunday, January 13, 2008

poem as metaphor

The poem itself can be metaphor. In Premonitions: the Kaya anthology of new Asian North American poetry Patricia Ikeda’s “Wild Iris” has the poem growing rather like a plant. The poem grows its own way, defying some of the poet’s preferences, “I wanted to describe the wild iris / … / But instead this poem wants to express …”

The poet muses about the state of the world & family life, what she “knows” about this or that, then comes back to her perplexity at the poem, “I cannot guess / what this poem wants to be, growing / … into my life. … This poem says / it doesn’t want to end … / … it wants to rise up / amid the ordinary course of our lives.”

Perhaps the poem as metaphor is a genre. I know I’ve written many variations.


Jim Murdoch said...

Robert Frost is famously quoted as saying that poetry is metaphor, although I've also seen the quote attributed to Wallace Stevens. The view goes back much farther than that though. For Longinus, the 3rd century Roman critic, the essence of poetry was "metaphor," a word that comes from the Greek, metaphorika, a sort of cart to carry people around, a means of transportation. The poem has to transport us, then. The end of the poem should leave us in a different emotional state than the one the poem began with. Metaphors say one thing and mean another which could almost be a definition of what all poetry does.

There are many theories as to how metaphors work but I think the point of view expressed by proponents of Conceptual Metaphor Theory makes sense when applies to poetry. They argue that few or even no abstract notions can be talked about without metaphor: there is no direct way of perceiving them and we can only understand them through the filter of directly experienced, concrete notions. It's a fascinating subject.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

Thanks, Jim. I like that metaphor means a cart to carry people around and hackneyed comes from the worn out old horses that drew hackney coaches.

One of the scary things about metaphors is the way we become invested in them. The metaphor is not the thing itself, yet takes on its own life. The very word is a metaphor. Pipe is not a pipe; how is pipe like a pipe?

I did a google search on CMT. Will look into that.

Jim Murdoch said...

Yes, I blundered into it quite by accident and it's something I intend to spend some time on too. I've saved a copy of my comment and will see if I can work it up into a full blog. I talked about a few weeks ago. You might like to have a week look at English in its underwear.