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Jan Wood Poet Laureate15 Minute Adjustment:
Revising Poetry

Copyright ©2009 by Jan Wood

This is the fifth in a series of short articles in which Poet Laureate Jan Wood shares valuable tips for poets.

The Power of Five Senses

Poems can be strengthened by use of strong similes and metaphors. Varying the sense from which they are derived can create sharper images and lend richness to the poem.

Quick Check:
Choose a poem you wish to revise and underline all the similes and metaphors it contains.Make a list of them and indicate the sense on which they are dependant.

Take note if any of the senses are not present in the poem or if any one sense in particular is over extended. Try changing a few of them. For example, if a simile is “…like a silver spoon” based in sight try changing it to one that is “…like the tinkle of silver wind chimes” based in sound.

When making changes to the comparisons always keep true to the poem and retain the theme and presence of it.

a) Enjambment: continuation of sentences or phrases over a line break.

Where (the five senses in simile examples): 


the bodies looked…like mounds of rags
         From "The Broadcaster's Poem" by Alden Nolan

snow flowers in a heap like the memory
of a white dress cast down…so much has fallen

         From "Absences" by Donald Justice

I know the star are wild as dust
         From "Another Night with a Telescope" by Leonard Cohen


a street sound throws like stone, with paper, through the glass
         From "Lone Bather" by A.M. Klien

Black bird has spoken like the first bird
         From "Morning Has Broken" by Eleanor Farjeon


looks dropped like new born calves into our unsteady hands
         From "Musing on Some Poets" by George Bowering

The wind…coming like madness in the snow
         From "Passing into Storm" by Patrick Lane


I smell her on his skin as if she has licked him from head to toe
         From "Watching My Lover" by Lorna Crosier

grew up with lilacs…it’s like looking at old photographs…an animal in me sniffing out its old grounds
         From "An Audience with the Dalai Lama or the Old-Fashioned Pas de Deux" by Patrick Friesen


the taste of Christmas in the room clung like gingerbread and sage
         by Jan Wood

the taste of his words like the quiver of tempered steel, a two edged blade
         by Jan Wood

Where (the five senses in metaphor examples): 


the heart is a shovel that would bury itself
         From Intermittent Rain by Roo Borson

Looking so much like the moon
         From "Grandmother in White" by Daniel David Moses


small bird’s gossip of so much greenness
         From "All this Slow Afternoon" by Raymond Souster

I lean back humming the hot night
         From "Mary Magdelene" by Carla Funk


where the weathered totem pole jabs a blunt finger
         From "A Night in the Royal Ontario Museum" by Margaret Atwood

The latex tintex   kotex   cutex land. Soft kingdoms sell for dimes
         From "Saturday Sundae" by F.R. Scott


A faint odor of absence, windless air buzzing of distant voices I can't recognize
         From "Hot line to the Gulf" by Pat Lowther


earning from the wolves to be tooth and tongue of darkness
         From "Winter Solstice Moon: An Eclogue" by Don McKay

not a single word drops from my lips for twenty years…
         From "No Language is Neutral" By Dionne Brand

The blade of the mouth to entrust A wish so illusive it hurts
         From "A Minor Path Shaku-Poems" by Shindrake

Synesthesia (something to consider)

An example of extending the metaphors and similes based on the five senses would be to map them one over the other and that is the concept of synesthesia. It is holding on to messages and insights that arrive faster than thoughts. It is the fleeting impressions that colour can sing, that one can hear visually and taste touch. These images result in astonishing comparisons that vibrate in paintings and words. They are the jingle jangle of a thousand butterflies in flight, the yawns of windows and the sour echoes of receding footsteps. Moments are experienced as double or triple metaphors and the impression is recorded in more than one sense such as “his touch slippery, redolent with the choke of thick oil” and “the red shriek of  my lover’s arm sliding around her waist.”

“It strikes like lightening to hear him sing” from Spring by Gerard Manley Hopkins offers an flash impression of a blinding light with a powerful bolt or jolt coming as sound, when in actuality, the thunder that follows lightening is what resonates in the ears. This over-lapping of senses deepens the simile and exposes another level in the poem and the audience understands this singer touches more than the ear with a frightening force.

Synesthia can be expressed in other art forms. Marcia Smilack works in the visual realm and as a photographer she uses her camera to click the moments of synesthesia she experiences. A sample of her photography and comments can be viewed here.

Books of Interest

15 Canadian Poets x 3 (Fourth Edition) edited by Gary Geddes published 2001 by Oxford University Press

Web sites of Interest