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Week 2: Poems are Relationships (October 8-October 14)

Metaphors are a basic unit or building block of poems, and simply put, metaphors are comparisons. The best ones draw relationships between unexpected elements--for instance, J. Allyn Rosser’s characterization of popcorn as “edible jazz.” Another aspect of successful metaphors is that they draw connection between the concrete (trains in the harbor, the sea)--and abstract (death, love, time).

It’s a delicate balance.  Poems with too many abstract terms can feel vague.  Part of a poet’s mastery is their ability to balance the abstract and the concrete--to make connections that feel accessible yet magical or strange.  

Task 1: Metaphor making
Take any word and make a comparison. Reconstitute the word in a metaphorical way. Here’s an example.

Calories (noun) - Tiny creatures that live in your closet and sew your clothes a little bit tighter every night.” --via Grouchy Rabbit:

Task 2: Take a poem--either the same one from last week or a new one--and choose one word from the poem.  Tease out a metaphor for that word in the same spirit of your poem. It can be as short as the calorie definition (above) or can be the whole poem.  Tracy and I will provide examples in our posts.

Please try to post by Tuesday, October 11th.

Keep in mind the criteria that we've decided make a poem "work." This is a googledoc that we can all edit.  Please do make any adjustments and refinements to it this week.


Next Steps:

1.) Make a comparison

2.) Find a poem, locate a word in in and make a metaphor in the spirit of the poem.  It can be as long as the original poem or short.

3.) Hack the rubric--it's in an open googledoc

Take it further: some resources to look at for deeper questioning of the topic

Task Discussion

  • Vanessa Gennarelli   Oct. 14, 2011, 9:49 a.m.

    What We Learned in Week 2 of "Hack this Poem": 

    • Metaphors are comparisons.  Many compelling ones explore the relationship between concrete and abstract.
    • Our sample metaphors were both more illustrative and detailed than the original element they modified.

    Tracy: train/trān/ (noun) A roaring hulk hurtling past replayed scenes, steel-chained to immovable paths.

    Carol: salmon: a school of sky-borne streaks at ebb tide of day

    Michael: cue , n.: a hint on a card, a smooth and slippery ball

    Vanessa: Gray hair, n.: a fork of implied electricity.

    • Did we want to define our objects in a more granular way? Perhaps our goal was vivid imagery?
    • In de/Composing poems we liked, we made choices about what to retain from the original poem, and what to revamp.
  • Tracy Tan   Oct. 11, 2011, 10:55 p.m.

    Hi everyone!

    Just a shout-out into the ether!

    If you haven't posted your deft definition or your metaphorical poem yet - fear not! We're still here, and we welcome any input at any time.. smiley


    You could also just jump right in and choose to give feedback on any of the work already posted! This week's work is about the relationships between the abstract and the concrete.. So feel free to talk about the connections between the abstract and concrete that you see in any of the works.. and do take a look at what we have said 'makes a poem great'. (Vanessa pulled that together here: )


    Or take a look at the links to readings we have in this week's workshop, and tell us your views about them!

    Hope to hear from you soon! laugh


  • MichaelScott   Oct. 10, 2011, 4:50 p.m.


    Hello everyone,

    I've enjoyed the lively contributions so far, sorry to be a bit late getting involved everybody in the household has a birthday this week = loads of cake but also = no time.

    I had a poem jump out at me after reading Vanessa's Elizabeth Bishop, here it is;


    Pool by Padraig Rooney


    ‘There’s always a pool parlour wherever one goes (think I’ll use this line in a poem)
    if one gets bored – Elizabeth Bishop, Letters


    There’s always a pool parlour wherever one goes,
    I travel light, with a two-hit screw-together cue
    in this customised case, my monogram worked
    into the Italian leather. I looked like a hit man,
    or - woman, in the old days, stepping off the trains
    into a scuzzy underworld where I’d play pool,

    professionally, for money - in those station pool
    parlours cum barbershops where the Mafia goes.
    I’d chat up hoods in the smokers of the trains -
    faggot amateur, they'd think, fingering my screwy cue,
    but time and again they fell for it to a man.
    My smooth-faced con trick always worked.

    In these Med towns the men are over-worked
    or on the dole. Either way they're game for pool.

    I loved the crack of the break, the man-to-man
    lickety-split of the shoeshine boy as he goes
    about his blowjob in the john, the tick of the cue
    in smoke blue parlours underneath the trains.

    Ah, those runaway cross-dressers riding the trains
    with stiletto hearts and false eyelashes. They'd worked
    nights since they were boys and could come right on cue!

    On bank holiday weekends we'd celebrate and pool
    our stakes, live it up in Naples or in Rome. Money goes
    quickly with low-life Romeos. I took it like a woman,

    but where it mattered I potted them like a man,
    one by one under arriving and departing trains,
    the reds, the yellows, the blues. Luck comes and goes
    but with me it's skill in adversity that's always worked
    the hormone rush that comes with beating men at pool
    I’ve had since I was twelve, and chalked my first cue.

    My Scrabble dictionary says it's a variation of queue.
    You wouldn’t care to play to pass the time, young man?
    I’m a dab hand at Scrabble, but nothing like I am at pool.
    And we’ve hours to kill before we board our trains.
    Truth is con-man tricks haven't really worked
    in these termini for years. Youth too comes and goes,

    like a cue-ball potting back and forth in sixteen goes.
    I’m worked to death these days picking up a man,
    And a spot of pool might do the trick until our trains.


    For me the whole poem is a metaphor for boredom, waiting, face value being unlike reality and a false/real conflict being fought inside the hustler.


    cue , n.: a hint on a card, a smooth and slippery ball


    My deaf mute cousin watches the shopping channel


    feet twist tangled
    on the pressure sensor
    starting block top step
    of the Tartan Bar

    Scottish Janice in
    twin-set & tam o’ shanter
    dabs organ teeth
    smile synchronised
    swimmer trembling 

    criss cross colours
    shiver pile
    sun yellow octaves
    amazing smoothness
    gorgeous rose under forty 

    cue card marker
    between the rain and the rainbows 

    twenty four
    ninety five
    dirty wasn’t it?
    a bit dreich she said
    silence me mittens 

    conch my ears
    tickle tears
    to your chest
    turn the colours up
    shout nothing subtle 

    fingerprints my tongue
    chunky stretchings
    quiver gold-sense
    incredible gargantuan




    E I N

    T H E B

    O X H A Z

    A R D A G U

    E S S W H A T

    T H A T I S



    Boredom, disguise, falsehood and tragedy made me think of shopping channels, where weather is cue carded in an attempt to add reality to the slippery sale of tat and clutter. The concrete image of a bar I visited many years ago where a different world of tartan and easy listening emerged at the top of the stairs gives way to abstract imagery gained directly from a shopping channel. The vague or misleading descriptions used on the channel suited abstraction for me as these programmes seemed not to be tethered to anything concrete either. The sight chart at the end is a 'guessing game' I saw on one show where the intrigue far outweighed the awful jewelry on sale!









  • Vanessa Gennarelli   Oct. 10, 2011, 9:23 p.m.
    In Reply To:   MichaelScott   Oct. 10, 2011, 4:50 p.m.

    Michael!  It's so fantastic to be reading your poems again. Welcome.

    Rooney's poem's structure--it's not a sestina?--curiously does not force a sing-songy tone. Look at how it's tone veers and surprises while using the same end words. The poem's logic is very interesting to me--do the images add up to winning? Surviving? Is the gender point of view slippery? Part of the con of the speaker?

    Your poem has surprises also--all of the demonstrative sound (twin-set & tam o’ shanter) juxtaposes sharply against the title.  It's like the sound is trying to prove itself. And that your cousin is saved much of the invasive sensory garrishness. Does that sound right? 

    I've been thinking about "silence me mittens" ever since you posted.  Sight charts as a "not-there but there" focal point are also an interesting image.

    Can't wait to see more, Michael. Vanessa

  • Tracy Tan   Oct. 10, 2011, 11:16 p.m.
    In Reply To:   MichaelScott   Oct. 10, 2011, 4:50 p.m.

    Hi Michael! Welcome!

    Thanks for sharing the Rooney poem!  I was caught up in his use of onamatopoeia ('crack of the break', 'lickety split' , 'tick' ) and the many parallel threads he was weaving into his central narrative.. I really liked your succinct interpretation of it.. to me - it echoed a sesne of meaninglessness... rather haunting actually..

    I also appreciated your re-interpretation of boredom through mindless channel-surfing! So apt! However, while the abstraction of the poem does suit the channel-surfing concept (as you rightly pointed out), I found i could only access the poem through your explanation (and the very cool 'eye-chart !').. i guess i wanted more of the 'narrative' element that Rooney had.. But that's just my two cents' worth =)

    Hope to hear from you soon!!

  • Vanessa Gennarelli   Oct. 13, 2011, 8:03 p.m.
    In Reply To:   MichaelScott   Oct. 10, 2011, 4:50 p.m.

    Hi Michael, I've been thinking about voice and tone in regards to both poems since you posted them.

    In the Rooney poem, the form (all the end-words pool, cue, goes, train, man, worked)  builds a sinister quality for the speaker. It kind of leads you to believe there's a storybook quality to the narrative, but the seedy subject matter pulls that rug out from underneath you.  

    I'm especially impressed that many of those lines don't have end-stops (periods or punctuation) and are enjambed (puncutation or pausing in the middle of the line). When we're thinking in end-words or in form, our minds sort of naturally drift to the word we need to rhyme or fit into the form. It takes discipline to scatter the pauses the way Rooney does. Color me impressed.

    In your piece I wanted to chime in that there are several words that I don't understand, or need to get the sense of the expression. I did want to echo a bit of what Tracy said--I was looking for a few articles to connect the narrative of the events, although I agree they are powerful sonically and visually. 

  • Vanessa Gennarelli   Oct. 9, 2011, 8:06 p.m.

    Gray hair, n.: a fork of implied electricity. 


    I’ve loved Elizabeth Bishop as long as I’ve been reading poems. While most folks usually read “The Fish” in anthologies, it was this piece that spoke to me. Although Bishop wasn’t exactly “closeted” she rarely brought up her personal life in her poems--her lesbian identity or her lifelong partner in Brazil, Lota de Macedo Soares. Except for this poem, which follows the intimate narrative of washing her partner’s hair in the sink--very extraordinary in its level of personal detail.

    I’ve tried a similar tack, but it’s very much a work in progress.  It was very difficult to take on your very favorite poem--I saw it as iconic and immutable!
    The Shampoo, Elizbeth Bishop
    The still explosions on the rocks,
    the lichens, grow
    by spreading, gray, concentric shocks.
    They have arranged
    to meet the rings around the moon, although
    within our memories they have not changed.

    And since the heavens will attend
    as long on us,
    you've been, dear friend,
    precipitate and pragmatical;
    and look what happens. For Time is
    nothing if not amenable.

    The shooting stars in your black hair
    in bright formation
    are flocking where,
    so straight, so soon?
    -- Come, let me wash it in this big tin basin,
    battered and shiny like the moon.
    And my hack, "Shampooing"
    This fork of implied electricity
    parked and exploding

    the tines hitch together in pockets

    Arise mysteriously
    are mysterious
    like only a few strands are scared

    Memories cannot age
    in a moment

    There are hints
    we may not
    recognize ourselves

    Come close to these rays from impact

    like secret firework patches

    you’re quite circumspect

    You invite them in
    erase them all

    a tiger’s eye spread across fibers
  • Tracy Tan   Oct. 11, 2011, 10:41 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Vanessa Gennarelli   Oct. 9, 2011, 8:06 p.m.

    I love the line 'memories cannot age in a moment'  and how it was woven into the idea of gray hairs.. the whole poem sounds hushed and secretive and it makes me want to know more... know more about the tension between that secrecy and mystery and the hints of 'fireworks'... =)

  • Vanessa Gennarelli   Oct. 13, 2011, 7:51 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Tracy Tan   Oct. 11, 2011, 10:41 p.m.

    Thanks Tracy--I still have a lot to hammer out here.  

    I've been thinking about the vagueness of the term "gray" and honing in with further precision.

    The piece still feels really raw to me. The pieces still need to add up to a whole. If folks have suggestions about where to focus, I welcome them!

  • Carol Peters   Oct. 8, 2011, 12:47 p.m.

    My prompt was Christopher DeWeese's poem "The Pier," the lines:

    teaching the boat-light
    a little beginner’s semaphore

    my hack . . .


    Blessing or Curse

    First comes gravity, followed instants later
    by cold, light, pressure & texture of earth or bed,
    of belly or tongue, nipple or limb: the school of life
    begins as intervals, briefest wakings between the
    longer gaps of sleep, the creature’s earliest grasp
    of comfort & loss, before anticipation colors
    the world with desire, disappointment, reward.

  • Vanessa Gennarelli   Oct. 10, 2011, 9:32 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Carol Peters   Oct. 8, 2011, 12:47 p.m.

    Carol, so much to unpack in this metaphor--the awakening of life and its very purpose!  The pace of this poem reminded me very much of Sharon Olds (who I love very dearly)--how it moves from a macro sense of being to flesh and back again. 

    Would it interest you to de/compose all of "The Pier"?  I'm already very attached to it. 

  • Carol Peters   Oct. 8, 2011, 11:55 a.m.

    Task 1:

    salmon: a school of sky-borne streaks at ebb tide of day

  • Carol Peters   Oct. 8, 2011, 11:27 a.m.




    Through Old French rubrique, from Latin rubrīca (red ochre), the substance used to make red letters, from ruber (red), from Proto-Indo-European *reudh-.


    • IPA/ˈɹuːbɹɪk/SAMPA: /"ru:brIk/
    • Audio (US)
      Play sound


    rubric (plural rubrics)

    1. heading in a book highlighted in red.
    2. A title of a category or a class.
      • That would fall under the rubric of things we can ignore for now.
       [quotations ▼]
    3. An established rule or custom, a guideline.
    4. (education) A printed set of scoring criteria for evaluating student work and for giving feedback.
  • Vanessa Gennarelli   Oct. 9, 2011, 8:01 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Carol Peters   Oct. 8, 2011, 11:27 a.m.

    Carol, I really love that this etymology is what sprung from the course. I've been thinking a lot about rubrics, and keep coming back to this. :-)

  • Carol Peters   Oct. 8, 2011, 11 a.m.

    what does "hack the rubric" mean?

  • Vanessa Gennarelli   Oct. 8, 2011, 3:16 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Carol Peters   Oct. 8, 2011, 11 a.m.

    Hi Carol, sorry I was imprecise--I meant that anyone could add to the rubric (it's an open googledoc) if people wanted to add elements I've missed. :-)

  • Tracy Tan   Oct. 8, 2011, 9:07 a.m.

    I chose this poem this week :

    Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
    There is a place where the sidewalk ends
    And before the street begins,
    And there the grass grows soft and white,
    And there the sun burns crimson bright,
    And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
    To cool in the peppermint wind.

    Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
    And the dark street winds and bends.
    Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
    We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
    And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
    To the place where the sidewalk ends.

    Yes we'll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
    And we'll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
    For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
    The place where the sidewalk ends.                       

    I toyed with the word 'sidewalk' for some time.. but instead, i decided to play with Silverstein's metaphor of meeting death with the following poem -

    When the credits roll by Tracy Tan

    When the credits roll
    there’s a sense of loss
    and some questions in the air.
    As the names are scrolled
    certain truths are told -
    how the tale was weaved
    what was make-believe
    who did lighting, make-up, hair.  

    So the soundtrack plays
    and you might delay
    your exit from the theatre.
    Hoping for some glimpse
    of a face or scene
    that lets the movie linger.


    Hope to hear what you think!

  • Vanessa Gennarelli   Oct. 10, 2011, 9:40 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Tracy Tan   Oct. 8, 2011, 9:07 a.m.


    Tracy and I were talking about this poem last week and I'm really surprised to read it now--so dark for a "children's" poem. 

    Tracy I really feel like you held on to the sound of the poem well--also there's a lightness of touch at the end which I think is true to the original.  OK, if Silverstein's focuses on death, what's your focus--regret?

    Very interested to hear what you're thinking, Vanessa

  • Tracy Tan   Oct. 10, 2011, 11:24 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Vanessa Gennarelli   Oct. 10, 2011, 9:40 p.m.

    Hi Vanessa!

    I'm an old-school rhyme scheme kinda girl.. haha..

    But the 'hacked' poem is still about death.. and I was thinking about my father's passing.. About hoping for a remembrance of his face, or scenes in his life.. =)

  • Vanessa Gennarelli   Oct. 13, 2011, 7:49 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Tracy Tan   Oct. 10, 2011, 11:24 p.m.

    Hey Tracy, thanks for clarifying. I guess I was interpreting that lingering on the screen for moments of indecision, or paths not taken. Maybe to me it straddles both worlds...VMG

  • Tracy Tan   Oct. 8, 2011, 9:05 a.m.

    train/trān/ (noun)

    A roaring hulk hurtling past replayed scenes, steel-chained to immovable paths.


    I thought of this as I've been taking the commuter rail  to this place where I'm interning once a week.. and the trains sounded sad and tired...

    Hack it as you see fit!

    =) Tracy