Writing a Metaphor for Love

Columbia University in NYC

For the last three years, I had the wonderful opportunity of attending the Columbia Scholastic Press Association writer’s conference in New York City. This was a perpetually fruitful trip because, while traveling under the guise of a chaperone, I’m convinced I learned and enjoyed more than any of the students I had in tow. Just roaming the walkways of an Ivy League university provided me the glimpse of the college life I never recieved attending Florida International University. Beyond that, the trip afforded us the chance to take in a few Broadway shows, tour the attractions of the City, and purchase purses; the Latter being an adventure of, at times, questionable legality. But that’s a post for another day.

The Maddening Crowd by NineDays

The writer’s conference hosts a series of workshops on Journalism, Video Production, Yearbook, and Creative Writing. As the Literary Magazine advisor at school, my primary focus at the writer’s conference was, naturally, the creative writing sessions. I attended many notable and valuable sessions, some which pushed my own writing and publishing efforts forward, but one session stood out above the rest each year. The session was presented by John Hampson, teacher, writer, and lead-singer/guitarist of the band Nine Days. (You’ll remember their hit song “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)” from 2000.)
I have a handful of personal experiences with celebrities (mostly professional athletes); some positive and some negative. Interacting with John Hampson was exceedingly positive because he did not set himself above anyone in the room. While the girls, both students and the female chaperones that accompanied me on the trip, fawned over the man, he remained grounded and open. After the session concluded, he stayed to sign autographs, give out CDs, and, much to the delight of my fellow chaperones, take pictures. I enjoyed my conversation with John because of the man’s down-to-earth persona. We connected as writers, teachers, and fathers; discussing how we both hugged our children after reading Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic tour de force, The Road.
His session at the conference, Literary Lyrics, provided me with classroom activities I still use in my poetry units today. I used his lyrical breakdown of his hit song “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)” to reinforce with my students the obvious connection bewteen poetry and song-writing. Deconstructing the literary devices used in their favorite songs was something the students always enjoyed.
During the workshop last year, John introduced a little warm-up exercise to the participants that involved choosing an inanimate object in the classroom and using it to develop a metaphor for love. I scanned the room for a moment, taking in my surroundings; the tight desks, the slatted windows, the dusty chalkboard. I settled on the chalkboard because, while it added to the old school feel of Columbia, it was an object that has largely disappeared in the modern classroom; replaced by either dry-erase boards or SmartBoards. I decided to develop my metaphor for love using the chalkboard, creating by my comparison between these two unlike entities.
Poetry has never been my primary focus as a writer; it has always been fiction writing. Moreover, its novel writing that has always been my ultimate concentration. However, writing poetry has been useful to me, helping me develop a rhythm to my prose, and honing the skill of manipulating language. My poetry still has a long way to go, but below, you’ll find my short metaphor poem. It’s not my greatest work, churned out in a short period of time at the workshop, but it’s something I’d like to share, considering Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. Feel free to let me know what you think, or share your own little metaphor for love. Here’s mine:
The chalkboard is love;
   the dust of former relationships
   shaping the texture
   of the present
When what’s written is real,
   it’s for all the world to read
   enjoy and wonder
   what it might mean.
On a separate note, here’s a link to a website where you could check out John Hampson and Nine Days’ music. http://www.ninedaysmore.com/

Bio Poem

As a Creative Writing teacher for the last five years, one of the many challenges I faced was getting the students to realize that poetry can be simple and fun. It’s doesn’t have to be a highbrow exercise in condescension. My favorite poet, Billy Collins, is nothing if not simple and direct with his word choice and imagery. It’s the simplicity that elicits the thoughtful approach any poet hopes their readers take.

Poetry is about the manipulation of words to create an image, an evocative image. It’s the use of language to produce a cohesive idea that transcends mere writing and lifts poetry to art. That being said, many novice writers may feel incredibly intimidated with the prospect of having to produce poetry. My approach to help desconstruct that barrier for the students is to introduce a formula poem like the Bio Poem.

Formula poetry is a style of poetry that adheres to an established set of guidelines in the creation of the work. There are different styles of formula poetry, some obviously more difficult than others. Some of the most popular formula poems are Haiku, Sonnets, and Cinquains, but the types I found most useful at the beginning stages of my poetry units were poems where the students finished a given line with different information. As the unit evolved, the poems became more difficult because the guidelines became less stringent.

The Bio Poem also served a dual purpose. When used at the beginning of the semester, this formula poem can also act as an icebreaker of sorts. Below you will find the guidelines for the formula, and my own Bio Poem. There are any number of different Bio Poems and this specific set of lines was presented to me at the Zelda Glazer Writing Institute about seven years ago. My intention with this post is to have it serve a something of an icebreaker for the community of this blog. I’d love it if my readers here would write their own Bio Poem as comments under this post. Please share!

Bio Poem

Line #1: First Name
Line #2: Four Adjectives to describe certain character traits
Line #3: “Relative of…” (list three people/things)
Line #4: “Lover of…” (list three people/things)
Line #5: “Who feels…” (list three)
Line #6: “Who needs…” (list three)
Line #7: “Who gives…” (list three)
Line #8: “Who fears…” (list three)
Line #9: “Who would like to see…” (list three)
Line #10: Last Name
Here’s my Bio Poem:
Creative, Crafty, Compassionate, Comfortable
Relative of Readers, Day-dreamers, and Starters
Lover of Family, Friends, and Coffee
Who feels Frustrated and Tired, or Happy and Rested
Who needs rest, quiet, and more coffee
Who gives time, effort, and the occassional cliché  
Who fears my imagination, failure, and cockroaches (Thanks, Mom!)
Who would like to see my book at Barnes & Noble, the Pyramids, and the Dolphins win a Super Bowl
Again, feel free to post your own Bio Poem below. I’d love to read it. Ultimately, poetry is an art form meant to be enjoyed.
Here’s a link to one of my favorite Billy Collins poems.