Poetry is an art form in which words are manipulated and crafted together in such a way as to invoke an emotional response from the reader.
Rather than simply writing facts, part of crafting a poem involves using figurative language such as similes and metaphors. These are very specific forms that cause a reader to make mental comparisons.
As children, we learn about our environment by building on experiences. We compare something new to something we have experienced before. This "linking" of experiences creates a strong foundation for learning and story memory. Years ago I had a pair of guinea pigs. One was a long haired guinea that looked like a little mop. A neighborhood girl came toddling by when I was combing the guinea's hair. She ran up, pointing gleefully and shouted "Doggy!" She was mentally drawing on her experiences of dogs as little hairy critters in order to make a connection to a new animal she had never seen. I enjoyed the opportunity to show her the differences between a doggy and my guinea pig. We are born using comparisons to learn new things. That doesn't change as we get older. A specific sound or smell can bring back a memory that has been buried for 20 years. For example, today I was walking downwind from a bakery. As the smells filled my nostrils, I wasn't thinking of the baked goods inside. I was reminded of a fair. The smell brought back memories of deep fried twinkies and elephant ear waffles at the county fair. I had automatically compared the smell to an experience. When writing poetry, we want our reader to experience the poem by creating word comparisons that invoke a memory. To do this, we would use similes and metaphors.
Similes and metaphors are two elements of writing that are easily confused because they are so close in nature. The difference is subtle but powerful. To show the difference, I am going to use my bakery experience to demonstrate:
A: The aroma of pastries wrapped around me like a ghost pulling me into its depth. (Simile)
B: The smell of the pastries was a time capsule carrying me back to my childhood. (Metaphor)
In both examples, I want to show the power of the smell that reminded me of the fair. In the first example, I stated that the aroma wrapped around me like a ghost. Because I made a direct comparison, the first statement (A) is an example of a simile. The second statement, however, is a bit stronger. I no longer told the reader that I was comparing two things, but I let the reader make their own comparison. The smell was a time capsule. This is a metaphor. The reader knows that I was not literally transported back in time, however, because of memories and experiences, the reader is able to draw the conclusion that I am comparing two things.
Using the guinea pig story, here is another example-
A: Its hair was like a mop, spilling around my lap. (Simile)
B: its hair was a mop that exploded across my lap. (Metaphor)
Again, looking at the two examples, 'A' uses a comparison word, like, while 'B' has the reader assume the comparison, using 'was'. Similes use the statements "like" and "as" to cue in the reader to think about what is coming next. It tells the reader to get ready to make a mental connection or picture between the two. Metaphors in literature will use direct statements of being- "was" and "is" between two seemingly different, sometimes opposing concepts to create a mental comparison based on experiences. We can also use similes and metaphors as tools to create rich visuals and comparisons without using the linking words. Lets see how this is done.
Diamonds in the night
guiding trav'lers from afar
catching dreams and wishes
In order to write a poem about stars, I created a mental list of Similes. Stars are like...... lanterns, lights, fireflies, diamonds. I chose diamonds. I then turned my simile into a metaphor by dropping the comparison word, like. It becomes a statement of fact. Stars are Diamonds.Knowing that they are not literally diamonds, but the essence of a diamond that captures the image I want to project. After deciding on my metaphor, I can then remove the first part; "Stars are". I begin my poem with simply "Diamonds in the night".
We learn and experience life by comparisons. Similes and Metaphors are powerful tools to craft word images that will allow your reader to experience your writing, not just read it.