Angles of Angels, The Echoing Image
At a recent poetry zoom, a poet used a line about mirrored floors. One of the group saw the image as polished floors, another as mirrors laid on the floor. It went on to mirrors leaned against the base of a wall for room effect. Until the question was asked: why not the illusion of space?
In ensuing emails, a dare was put to write a mirror poem.
To me, metaphors and similes are in a sense, mirrors. They reflect angles of light on a subject; a picture that helps to show the storyline; a same thing from a different angle; even an image of the story. They add humour, depth, clarity, etc…
Raymond Chandler used similes as if he had a little factory in his office desk where he just pulled them out as needed. One of his more famous ones is “I was dizzy as a dervish, as weak as a worn-out washer, as low as a badger’s belly, as timid as a titmouse, and as unlikely to succeed as a ballet dancer with a wooden leg.” This is an extended simile. Seems best suited for humour. But you get the idea. You know what the narrator is portraying.
In Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad used white shutters to describe fog “more blinding than the night” that “lifted as a shutter lifts.” The comparison extends into the next sentence as “the white shutter came down again, smoothly, as if sliding in greased grooves.” This simile, that works on a larger scale as a metaphor, adds to the tension as the crew of the ship anchor mid river, then hear a scream before the fog lowers again. Their hope of salvation from possible attack is quashed. They raise anchor to drift. It can be seen as a huge extended metaphor on European commerce of the past century in Africa. This technique of the extended metaphor, or simile, can be seen as an echo, or successive waves.
Bruce Meyer’s Grace of Falling Stars, a compilation of Meyer poems put together by University of Windsor students, has an absolute standout in the impressive poem “The Dogfish Shark”. In this poem, the narrator is walking with the ‘old man’ along a beach “struck smooth by the palm of a dying storm”. The image sets up a violent tension that leads to the discovery of a dead shark on the sand, the shark “tossed / where the sea had killed it.” The metaphor of the beach echoes the action of what had happened to the shark.
Whether you prefer metaphor or simile to reflect narrative doesn’t matter. One can be just as powerful as the other. In most cases metaphor seems to be the stronger of the two, given its claim to be something, rather than like something. That said, much of both Sharon Olds’ and Earnest Hemingway’s work contain similes. And sometimes one just works better than the other. Images can’t always be the item, they can only reflect a likeness. It also matters whether the author wants to strain, mislead, or smooth out the tension toward, or away from a core theme.
So, what about that writing circle dare? For me, I tend to write quickly and edit vigorously at length. Nothing in my work is sacred. Lessons taught to me by individual mentors filter the process in what would best be called Automatic Pilot. In this case, having discovered I had my own mirror on the floor, a thing forgotten, leaned against a bedroom wall, years after a renovation, I wrote the following:
Angle of Light
the mirror rested
on the floor
it angled there
in the spare room
since the renovation
for her to twirl
an angel of light
The poem became a natural split, action followed by reaction, the past moving to present. The work incorporated a few rhymes and contains what appear to be weak, or throw-away lines. But this is not haiku. What I generally work toward is rhythm of image. For example, the second and fourth stanzas echo each other in subject matter, both contain light; the mirror resting while the subject is at ease before it; a spare room is where dust gathers; a renovated room is a place of comfort, a softer place; and to stay is to relax, to stretch out, to become surface.
In all, the imagery echoes as a larger pattern of metaphor toward theme.
Note: the books used to arrive at this article is a longer list than the work presented. However, Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction would be a go to, for me.
Keith Inman, 2021