What is metaphor/using metaphor

Back in March of 2012, I wrote the following “response paper” for a class on form and theory of poetry.  I thought it might be worth sharing.

Don’t worry if you are unfamiliar with whom I reference or the texts I reference; the point is sharing the thoughts.

Marianne Boruch points out an unfortunate, mistaken take on what metaphor is:  “This much about the metaphor is always said: sameness, similarity, A = B as though such a neat, safe connection were possible.”  Such concepts of “metaphor” are conceptions of definition, and it is a big mistake to consider metaphor (so long as it is not in the cliché territory of figurative speech) to be an equation.  What jars and excites the reader when encountering a metaphor is the fact that it is not an equation—the comparison is imperfect, and the reader’s mind is aware of the differences as well as the similarities between “A” and “B.”

A metaphor threatens definition: it presents itself as though it is a definition while it is blatantly not.

Boruch says, “It may be we need the danger in [metaphor].”  A writer (forgive the cliché) goes out on a limb when he/she uses a metaphor: there is risk in its use because of its imperfection; there is a risk that the reader may reject the comparison (not seeing any similarity [perhaps from lack of imagination]).

And danger is experienced as the reader reads the metaphor: “A” begins to overlap with “B”—boundaries are threatened; what is and is not are not stable; one thing is not exclusive to another thing; “A” and “B” acquire each other’s properties.  A new paradigm of being unfolds that allows for transformation instead of static existence.

In thinking about how metaphor can be employed, Boruch points out that juxtaposition is one way to make “a more astonished” metaphor than A ‘is’ B.  I want to point out another way metaphor can be employed: using verbs for a subject that transform the subject beyond its usual definition.

Using verbs in creating metaphor is a powerful form of transformation: the subject becomes transformed by what it does rather than in a more stable way of “A ‘is’ B.”  It is as though the subject transforms itself rather than only the speaker offering the ontology.

On this note, I want to say that seeking to have “image” in a poem feels wrong to me because “image” tends to refer to something still; I prefer something in transformation—a “video” or “motion picture” would be a better, more lively comparison than “image.”  (“Montage” doesn’t quite fit with transformation either: it’s more of a metaphor-by-juxtaposition.)

Boruch says that metaphor does “Not advance—where is there really to get to?—but [is] expansion and contraction, the opening and the shutting.”  I agree.

The paradigm a metaphor presents is not linear (that would be definition) but overlap (as said earlier) and, thus, expansion.  The poem itself does not “advance”—it does not have its eye on a single destination—instead, it opens out to touch multiple coordinates.

How do you use metaphor?

Why and when do you use metaphor?

What do you think of this idea of using verbs to create metaphor?  Have you done so?