A Collapsed Metaphor on Paper

Poets and appreciaters of poetry are familiar with poetic constructs. Examples of such constructs include simile, metaphor, metonymy, alliteration,onomatopoeia, personification - these are some of the building blocks from which so many poems have been assembled through the ages of poetry. Many excellent books have been written to cover this field in varying degrees of detail, so I have no need to recover it here.

It is tempting to conclude that all such constructs have now been exhaustively defined, and that all poetry that has been, is being, and will be written can expect to exemplify those constructs alone. But history is our teacher. We have learnt that such a premise is premature: there is no reason to assume that poets have encompassed the total range of potential constructs, nor that there is no room for innovation. Just as Gerard Manly Hopkins restructured our concepts of poetic rhythm, and Dylan Thomas introduced us to linguistic inventiveness, and e e cummings broke all preconceived notions of accepted layout, so we are always prepared for more innovations.

Emboldened by the example of this tradition of innovation, I venture to
introduce another new poetic construct. The name of this new form is the
"collapsed metaphor". My challenge now is to define, refine and illustrate the collapsed metaphor.

Students of poetry are generally familiar with the elementary constructs of
simile and metaphor. In most texts on poetic forms, these two constructs are
invariably introduced together. They serve similar purposes: drawing an analogy between two like ideas. The metaphor is regarded as a more direct comparison, a stronger identification of the two ideas in the analogy. As such, the metaphor may be seen as a progression in strength from the simile. In like manner, the collapsed metaphor may be seen as a further progression being made in the same direction. The collapsed metaphor does for the metaphor, what the metaphor does for the simile.

There are many different ways in which the collapsed metaphor can achieve its progression from the metaphor.

(1) It can take two metaphors and compress them into one. It may run the risk of being confused with a mixed metaphor, but it is up to the poet to assess that risk, or avoid it if necessary.

(2) It can take a metaphor and overlay it with a double entendre, thus conveying more than the traditional metaphor on its own.

(3) It can combine a metaphor with assonance, alliteration, or onomatopoeia, coupling sense with sound for a richer poetic experience in a compact expression

A note on the terminology

Why "collapsed" metaphor? "Collapsed" may be interpreted as representing that the new form has broken the definition of the traditional metaphor, and has thus wrought its destruction. This interpretation is valid, and simply determines the price of innovation. But "collapsed" conveys another meaning. In computer parlance, a collapsed backbone network describes an innovative progression where an unwieldy network segment is condensed into a more effective single element. In this sense, "collapsed" represents an advantageous compression.

Let us now combine these two meanings to arrive at a definition of the collapsed metaphor: a compression of a metaphor with one or more poetic constructs to secure the advantage of a new construct.


It is worthwhile to illustrate the collapsed metaphor in action. Three examples below are taken from my own poems, which have been released on the Internet at the URLs shown.

Title: Cobb Valley & Power Station
URL: http://www.nzscribble.net/ecfeb2.html

                                                                 lowering waters 
                                                                           brood over 
                                  your mainbraced, tail-raced 
                                                             enraptured power 
                                                    in line 
                                                           for generations. 

The subject is a lake created by damming a river that flows through a valley
carved by a prehistoric glacier. The dam in turn generates electricity as the
water gushes through tunnels, over turbines, and out into a tailrace. The
generated electricity is conveyed across country in high-tension power lines. In this extract the lake water is personified as brooding. The word lowering
conveys multiple images  'the artificial raising and lowering of the lake's
water level, and the frowning, scowling aspect implied again in the brooding.
The whole line flows in a rush through the very mainbraced structure of the
generating station. The beauty of the scene is contrasted with the power, both electrical and majestic, and these two interpretations of power are mirrored in the dual function of generations which imply the general sense of electricity generation and the generations of people served by that electricity. The beauty of the lake and valley also serve generations.  It is the compaction of the multiple interpretations coupled with metaphorical analogies that give effect to the collapsed metaphor construct.

Title: Come the Horsemen
URL: http://www.nzscribble.net/ecmar.html
        raiment skies flame remnant signs 
        on rivers bled of torment floods 
This apocalyptic poem portrays further examples of collapsed metaphor. Here, words suggest both images and sounds of other words which in turn suggest further images. Note the patterns in pairings such as raiment / remnant, skies /signs, bled / blood / fled / flood, flame / torment and torment / torrent.
Metaphorically, the skies are dressed in flame, rivers are in flood with blood
as if bleeding. Paradoxically, the rivers are also portrayed as dead, having
been bled of the torments of flooding.

Title:The Venial Soul-stains
URL: http://www.nzscribble.net/ecjul.html
   why did sparrows stab a stark staccato
   toccata on static phone wires,
   now stilled in the chill of excommunication?

Venial Soul-stains may be categorized as post-apocalyptic with roots digging back to a pre-apocalyptic era as shown in this extract. The unifying metaphor in this extract is of lines of birds perched on telephone wires, suggesting a strange musical score of chaotic repetitive chords. This apparent musical score is actually played out in the alliterative repetition of sounds and images.
Multiple layered images are inherent in the interpretations of key words such as static (still contrasts with noise without meaning) and excommunication (no more phone conversations contrasts with expulsion from religious adherence).


The collapsed metaphor is a new term to define a poetic construct. In this paper I have set out to introduce the term, define it, and provide illustrations from my own work.

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