Friday, July 6, 2018

metaphor dice iv

[Do scroll down and read two more Metaphor Dice poems I've written this week.]
Remember Magnetic Poetry?  I still mess around with several mixed-up sets of those sticky little words, and I still feel the little frisson of recognizing that Madonna's "Candy Perfume Girl" was made of the original set of 150 Magnetic Poetry words (although apparently she denied that at the time, which is shockingly TWENTY years ago).

I mention the lasting usefulness of MagPo today because I'm getting, after only a week, the first hint that my fabulous Metaphor Dice are a bit limited.  There are 12 dice, 6 sides each, which is 72 words.  If I have used this permutation calculator correctly, that means there are 59,640 metaphor possibilities, and yet today's roll offers me four combinations of which none is really doing it for me...and I think I know why.

The whole point here is to take a big abstract concept and talk about it using an adjective and a "smaller...humbler" concrete noun. So here we have big stuff like my birth, my soul, memory,  and power as the given starting points.

This is not working for me because this way of approaching a poem is, I can say unequivocally, never the way that a poem comes to me.  I never suddenly think, "Oooh, look at this gigantic concept I have come across in daily life, POWER!  Let me sit down and write a poem about power."

Instead poems come to me in tiny specific seeds, like a surprising combination of words or a poignant moment of emotion, which are noticeable or intriguing because of the way they connect to something unexpected and sometimes more universal.  Perhaps this is why I often dislike big classic sweeping poems about Truth and Beauty.  The poems that speak to me are small (thanks, Valerie Worth) and precise and do just enough of the hard work of revealing links between things that I have missed.  My favorite poems slow me, stop me, dazzle me with the accuracy of their literal description even as they crack open a wider mystery that demands my participation.

Here's a poem that I share with 2nd graders, an extended metaphor that we read during the time of the year when we are first studying Native American culture and change over time by observing the moon.  We read it first while looking at a picture of a birch bark canoe, and then we reread it with the sliver of a new moon before us.

The New Moon | Eve Merriam

Hold on to me.
We will slip carefully carefully
don`t tip it over
into this canoe
pale as birch bark

and with the stars
over our shoulders
down the dark river
of the sky.

Do not delay.
By next week
the canoe will be bulging with cargo,
there will be no room
inside for us.

Tonight is the time.
Step carefully.
Hold on to me.

I LOVE this genius poem because the first line demands that we forget all about the new moon in the title and get a physical grip on this slightly risky, rather urgent canoe trip.  This would be interesting in itself--but then the "dark river of the sky" alerts us to something more going on, and with a small investment of attention and imagination, 7-8's can suddenly see how the crescent moon resembles a canoe, a canoe that changes shape and fills with cargo (what cargo?!), and how the climbing in and paddling (which we actually do with our bodies) puts us in a whole different place with a whole different view of both the canoe and the moon. Genius, like I said.

If Eve Merriam were using Metaphor Dice, this poem could not have come to be (even though moon appears on a humble blue die). With Metaphor Dice you can't roll something small and concrete like moon = full + canoe, if you go with the basic red = white + blue.  So, as usual, I'm just going to break "the rules," which, to be fair to Taylor and his team, probably shouldn't be considered rules.  This workaround stuff started already on Tuesday with a poem about iconoclasm, so I shouldn't be surprised. Today I'mma work with meadow again....


meadow is a rugged midwife:

tireless she brings forth leggy

flowerchildren of soil and rain.

they with their hueboldened

heads are not her own,

they leave home, sow their oats,

die back, are mown,

but meadow counsels earth

to breathe and push again,

again, unalone.


The roundup today is with Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect (ooh that turns out to be a nice connect to ms. meadow the midwife, right?) who is doing it old-school, ever charming. Hike on over for some Poetry Sisters action.


  1. Oh, this is gorgeous! I love the "leggy flowerchildren" with their "hueboldened heads." I agree with you about small, precise poems that connect to the universal. Thanks for "The New Moon," too!

  2. Wow, this is gorgeous!!! Meadow as Earth's midwife is sheer genius.
    I'm stuck on Memory is a rugged midwife, though, and wondering what she is bringing forth in great pain and toil...

  3. Part of the park nearby is a small hill, for small kid sledding in the winter, and overgrown meadow in spring and summer. BUT, they mow it once or twice. It is a good thing, but I wonder about the small things that have already made their home. I won't walk through my meadow again without thinking of that which a midwife gives late in your poem "to breathe and push again" after "hueboldened/heads are not her own,/they leave home, are mown,/fling their oats, die back". I enjoyed the introduction, from dice to "my own words". Thanks, Heidi. I always enjoy reading your thoughtful posts.

  4. Your work and Merriam's is exquisite. The genius of them makes me feel good. I'm intrigued by these metaphor dice, and in my humble opinion, comparing noun to noun is fair game. Play on!

  5. If anyone could write a poem about "my birth bright thunderstorm," it's you, Heidi! In all seriousness, though, I do love your "rugged midwife" of a meadow. A farmer hays the field across the street three or four times each year, and each time, I'm sad for all the creatures who live there. But then, in a week or two, "she brings forth leggy/flowerchildren" and the cycle begins again. Just like Merriam's moon. Thank you for this lovely post.

  6. Love your meadow/midwife metaphor. So fresh and beautiful.

  7. Oh, this post is like a fireworks display--each moment lit with beauty and celebration--the fun (albeit limited) of dice and magnetic words, your reflections on writing poetry, Eve Merriam's gorgeous poem (which bulges with its own rich cargo!), and the grand finale--the meadow as rugged midwife. Boom! Crash! Wow!!!

  8. I want to write a comment like Molly’s above and I want to write a poem like yours. You are a teacher to me, inspiring and energizing. When my students used magnetic poetry, they abandon the non rules quickly and begin hunting for the word that is in their head. I look forward to my own set of metaphor dice to try with them but like you, will probably abandon the rules. I see, however, how the first rolls you did above may lead to some great memoir poems.
    The meadow as a midwife is just brilliant!

  9. Perhaps because I was just at Carol's Corner, where there was a poem by Naomi about how much we love bad news, Molly's comment makes me think of poetic announcers. I want poetry to be the news, and this post can go first. (If you haven't seen Man Writes Poem:

  10. Oh yes, to everything you have written and to the comments above. That meadow as midwife is stunning. For me, too, it is those small poems--packed with just the right image or memory that cracks open meaning. I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts as you experiment with the dice and create your own rules for using them.

  11. I love the tight, circular nature of Merriam's poem, but also love your conceit of the meadow as midwife...a brilliant observation.

  12. What an enchanting line, "hueboldened
    Also like these lines,
    "meadow is a rugged midwife:
    tireless she brings forth leggy
    flowerchildren of soil and rain." I love those "leggy flowerchildren you placed in your poem. Lots of unique twists and turns too.

  13. Yup. I did miss this MIDWIFE poem back in July. I haven't played around enough with the dice to get frustrated. My magnetic poetry is seriously underutilized in my room, so maybe I should bring it home. I'm hoarding the metaphor dice and the haikubes, so I might as well.

    Hmm...I'm hatching an idea for Poetry Month...


Thanks for joining in the wild rumpus!