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Extended Metaphor 

June 1999

Catherine "Cat" Doty 's poem "Sunburn" is a good example of the extended metaphor (or simile) poem in which we compare two unlikes - in this case, a sunburn and love - for the entire poem. I enjoy the introduction of the poet into stanza two (" here's where I try to say / this might be like love") to remind us that as with all metaphors, these two are not really alike.

Try that form, the extended metaphor, and maintain the two stanza form which here takes a sonnet-like turn into the second half of the comparison. Certainly don't limit your metaphors to love. 

"Sunburn" is from Doty's collection Momentum and her second book is a collection cartoons, Just Kidding, which includes an illustrated alphabet, zodiac signs and the Chinese years interpreted. Are you like that Libra sign you were born under, or the year of the rat that was handed you? What is poetry really like? 

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


You don't set out to compare
two different things
without using "like" or "as."
It's the thing that draws you along,
not at all sure where it's heading
until you stumble on the other thing.
And if you knew where you were going,
you'd probably shrug it off as cliché.

You don't plan to be a poet either.
A writer, yes, but of the stuff
that people read, that pays,
until you find yourself
in the center of the page,
turning back to the margin,
unable to go in any other direction.

Susan Kaye


I think that right now she is the wave
and I am that force that creates tides
and that I am not sure if I am pulling her
out, or pushing her in to shore.

I know that right now as she lies
in the shallows looking up at the sky
that the first points of her body surface
as ripples that excite me

and that I want it to wash over her
so that she rises at the same moment
as that force that is my own deep
inhalation of breath before it breaks.

Charles Michaels


Time to write another play.
Whom shall I kill this time?
A girl, I think, an almost virgin girl,
freshly deflowered who likes flowers,
with a good voice. I won't mention the bosom.
Then a skull, which someone will speak to.
The skull will open like a jewel box,
a crack along the migraine.

Inside I will place the few days
I have given these people to live,
all their chances for climax
and denouement. Afterwards
they can climb inside
and watch as we unhinge ourselves.

Mary DeBow


If the blade has fine teeth,
the cut will be smooth
and the rings will be clear.
At the heartwood, fat bands
from good sunlight and water,
and little competition.
Then the inevitable thinning
necessary to form hardwood.

But if the blade cross cuts
roughly grinding concentricity,
then only the droughts,
fires and scars will show.
Yet still, the sweet sap smell
will be the same, either way.

Ken Ronkowitz


When you see someone pass that you think you know,
a bird shoots from the side of the path,
your foot slips on a mossy river rock,
the sun momentarily blinds you,
a trout hits an insect on the surface,
a reply is made before thought,
you are awakened by a sound,
or you put your finger on the hot coal
and hear the sound
but there is no pain.

Lianna Wright


when i woke up this morning
I thought i would play the lottery
You don't live until you've taken a chance.
you know "lucky 7"s"  maybe
and  while I drove dreamily
to the 7-11, I thought about chance
and luck, or the absence of it
and how one little incident will
set life on it's heels
and my scratch off ticket was a bust
so I bought another one and still I
thought, more deeply of chance
and wondered what little thing
I could have done differently,
that would have made me a millionairess
or a pilot in the Air Force
or maybe even...
As I pondered chance I failed
to realize that the ticket i just bought
and threw out the window was
my chance... I heard it on the news
last night
a greasy old man picked it up
and my chance had been his...
I was stupefied as he spoke of the young woman in the old car who made
his life better
and how it was just chance, his car had broke
down and he had walked to the 7-11 to call...
i gazed slowly around my room and thought
Well isn't that just the way it goes. Typical.
The next night I watched, in horror,
as they reported that poor, or should I say newly rich man had been in a
terrible freak
accident... Life is just chancy that way



Maybe this poem is a bucket
that my words need to fill
and the sides are its form,
the base will hold it together
and I will see when it spills
over and know to stop.
Though it might be a tree
that starts small from seed
and the form it first shows
is far from the final form,
the bark, branches and leaves
that we would name a poem.
And I know that some poems
like roses grow from seemingly
dead wood, new shoots and leaves
built on the memory of a past year
to produce that bloom.
Or perhaps, bulb-like, this fat buried
fruit will produce one crocus couplet,
perfumed hyacinth villanelle.

All this from a bucket under the tree
that holds a trowel and bulb planter
that wants for me.

Pamela Milne



Again and again
we grease our supple skins,
spread ourselves on the earth
that wants us back,
think we'll go slow
but evening finds us sick
feverish and weak
in our baths of tepid tea.

Here's where I try to say
this might be like love:
turning ourselves 'til
no single cell is spared,
thinking, as pinwheels rage
beneath our lids,
I'll stop before anyone knows
what a fool I've been,
I'll rise from this
just as soon as I'm beautiful."