Mark Neely is the author of Beasts of the Hill (winner of the FIELD Poetry Prize) and Dirty Bomb, both from Oberlin College Press. He is a 2015 NEA Poetry Fellow and his poems have appeared in Gulf Coast, Indiana Review, Boulevard, Willow Springs and elsewhere. He teaches at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.
Mark Neely talks about metaphor and simile in “Solomon’s Wisdom.”
Here are links to the examples Mark Neely references in his discussion: “Doing Laundry on Sunday” Brigit Peegen Kelly; “For the Union Dead” by Robert Lowell; “Consider the Hands that Write this Letter” by Aracelis Girmay; “The day came slow” by Emily Dickinson; and Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America.
By Mark Neely
Solomon’s wisdom didn’t keep
him from pining for
sleek horses, so how am I—
with no direct warnings from above—
to keep my mind off you in the bar
mirror fifteen years ago, ice
pouring from the sky behind you, back
when we still believed in winter,
in benevolent bartenders and Peter Buck,
believed no harm could come to us
from drinking Bass with Bushmills
and watching hipsters flaunt
fake fur and silver
by the orange space heaters
until we were thrown out
into a frozen park,
where the glassy trees
reminded us of us—
in their misery.
[Previously appeared in AGNI Online and Dirty Bomb (Oberlin College Press, 2015).]
Writing Prompts: Either write a poem that contains at least one metaphor and one simile OR write a poem that extends a metaphor (the poem relies on the development of one metaphor).
Definition of Terms
A metaphor is a comparison created in a figure of speech between two different things that have similarities. Consider Simon and Garfunkel’s song “I Am a Rock.” Metaphor is often talked about with similes, which also create comparisons between two things. Think of metaphor as the whole (I am a rock) and simile as the part (I am rough like a rock).
Like a metaphor, a simile creates a comparison between two different things that have similarities and uses the word like or as to establish it. This allows the writer to select a specific characteristic in some cases, rather than something in its entirety. For example, if we jump off the rock above to Bob Seger’s “Like a Rock” we see he says he is strong like a rock, picking out a quality of rockness in this moment to make his comparison. The difference between simile and metaphor can be subtle some times, but being able to be more specific in a moment by creating a simile or less specific by creating a metaphor helps a poet communicate his or her message.
Tenor is a word I.A. Richards came up with in 1936 to talk about metaphors and break them down to see how they work. The tenor is the idea or principle subject that gives the metaphor its meaning, and it is partnered with the vehicle, which is the figure of speech or expression that creates the comparison.