ocean vuong on writing metaphors
#(those are similes not metaphors though?)
‘lastly, the prior examples are technically “similes” but i believe similes reside under the umbrella of metaphor. although a simile is a demarcation, ie: this is “like” that. but this is “not” ,ontologically, [sic] that.
however, I think something happens in the act of reading wherein we collapse the “bridge” and the mind automatically forges synergy between the two images, so that all smiles [sic], once read, “act” like metaphors in the mind.
but again this is all subjective. you might have a better way of going about it.’
from vuong’s elaboration, which can be found here, alongside a ‘deeper dive into [his] personal theory of metaphor’ after many responses to the original
[ID: six photos taken from ocean vuong’s instagram story, responding to the question: “how do you make sure your metaphors have real depth?”
“metaphors should have two things: sensory (visual, texture, sound, etc) connector between origin image and the transforming image as well as a clear logical connector between both images. if you have only one of either, best to forgoe the metaphor. otherwise it will seem forced or read like ‘writing’ if that makes sense”
“a lot of ya’ll asked for examples re: metaphor. I can explain better if I had 15 minutes of class time (apply to UMass!). But essentially, metaphors that go awry can signal a hurried desire to be ‘literary’ or ‘poetic’ (i.e. 'writing’), which can lose traction/trust with a reader. in other words, a metaphor is a detour-/but that detour better lead to discoveries that alter/amplify the meaning of what is already there, so that a reader sees you as a servant of possibility rather than someone trying to prove that they are a 'writer.’ One is performative, the other exploratory. in this way, the metaphor acts as a virtual medium, ejecting the text’s optical realism into an 'elsewhere.’ But this elsewhere should inform the original upon our return. otherwise the journey would feel like an ejection from a crash rather than a curated journey toward more complex meaning.”
“example: 'The road curves like a cat’s tail.’ This is a weak metaphor because the transforming image (tail) does not amplify/alter the original. The transfer of meaning flattens and dies. Logic is weak or moot: A cat’s tail does not really change the nature of the road. You can certainly add to this with a few more expository sentences which might rescue the logic—but by then you’re just doing CPR on your metaphor. Sensory, too, is weak: a cat’s tail has little optical resemblance to a road other than being curved (roads are not furry, for one.) So this is a 0 for 2 and should be scrapped. (Just my opinion though! Not a rule!)”
“okay so what about: 'The road runs between two groves of pine, like the first stroke of a buzzcut.’ this is better. the optical sensory of the transforming image (a clipper thru a head of hair) matches well with the original. but the logic feels arbitrary. again it doesn’t substantially alter the original. in the end this is just an 'interesting image’ but not strong enough to keep I’d say.”
“Now here’s one from Sharon Olds: 'The hair on my father’s arms like blades of molasses.’ Sensory connector: check. A man’s dark air indeed can look like blades (also suggestive of grass) of molasses. Logical connector: check. the father is both sharp and sweet. Something once soft and sticky about him (connotations of youth) sweets, has now hardened the confection no longer fresh etc. It’s an ambitious metaphor that is packed with resonance. In other words, it does worlds of work and actually deepens the more you dit with it. A metaphor that actually invites you to put the book down, think on it, absorb it, before returning. a good metaphor uses detours to add power to the text. poor metaphors distract from the text and leave you bereft, laid to the side.”
“Another very ambitious metaphor is this one from Eduardo C. Corral: 'Moss intensifies up the tree, like applause.’ This is a masterful metaphor, risky and requires a lot of faith, restraint, and experience to pull off. Difficult mainly because now we see a surrealist 'distortion’ of the sensory realm: origin IMAGE (moss) is paired with transforming SOUND (applause). There is now a leap in comparable elements. But the adherence to our two vital factors are still present. Sensory: moss, though silent, grows slowly (the word 'intensifier’ does major work here becuz it foreshadows the transforming element). Applause, too, grows gradually, before dying down. Logic: the growth of moss suggests spring, lushness, life, resilience and connotes anticipatory hope, much like applause. In turn, applause modifies the nature of moss and imbues, at least this moss, with a sense of accomplishment, closure, it’s refreshment a cause for celebration. God I love words.” /End ID.]