Marge Simpson's beehive hairdo looks like cotton candy, of course. After all, it's blue and cone-shaped. Comparing hair to cotton candy is one example of a metaphor: a comparison of two things we do not usually associate with each other. Well-written metaphors mix a sense of surprise with a shock of recognition. The two ways to write a metaphor poem are to create a single metaphor and follow it all the way through -- an extended metaphor -- or to write a series of different metaphors.
Make a Metaphor Machine
An exercise to generate a number of crazy metaphors that will spur your imagination. Fold a sheet of paper in half the long way. Down the first column, write a list of at least 10 nouns. They should be words you find interesting. A short list might include feet,snowflakes,hands.
Now turn the paper over and write a list of 10 more unrelated nouns. For example, motorcycles,spitballs,whispers.
Now unfold the paper. Mix and match the words, putting "is" or "was" in between. Write a short expansion of each metaphor. For example, Your feet were motorcycles zooming around the room,
The snowflakes are spitballs smashing against my window, Your hands are whispers against my skin. Some metaphors will work better than others. Pick those you like best and use them to write your poem. You do not have to use them all.
It is always interesting to create a metaphor based on a person. Try starting with a physical comparison. Then explain the comparison. For example, My grandmother is a loaf of fresh-baked bread, Her skin is warm and brown.
This kind of comparison works well for an extended metaphor poem. Keep going and explore the question of how else the two things are the same. For example,
She smells sweet, like cinnamon and raisins.
She's always ready, giving me what I need.
Sylvia Plath's famous poem, "Daddy" gives a very different example of a metaphor based on a person. Here the speaker compares her strict father to an uncomfortable shoe, and herself to the foot inside it:
You do not do, you do not do,
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.
Using animal comparisons can make your poem lively and interesting. For example, in his poem "Fog," Carl Sandburg compares the weather to a cat:
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
What makes this poem interesting is the fact that we do not usually think of weather this way. However, when you think about it, the comparison is very appropriate: like a cat, the fog is silent and fuzzy. It comes and goes on its own schedule. Another famous metaphor poem using an animal is Emily Dickinson's "Hope," in which she compares hope to a bird "that perches in the soul."
Chain of Associations
Start by thinking of an object or looking at a picture and ask what the shape reminds you of. See if you can associate that shape with another shape or another sensory perception. For example,
The fireworks were electric spiders crawling through the sky. They were enormous
flowers that bloomed and died and bloomed again. They smelled
of smoke. They sizzled
like bacon frying in a pan.
This poem begins the image of fireworks and compares it to two things that look similar: spiders and flowers. The writer then thinks about the smell of flowers versus the smell of fireworks and then thinks about the sound the explosions. Each association leads to another association.