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
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
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
(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.
Valley & Power Station
your mainbraced, tail-raced
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
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.
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
why did sparrows
stab a stark staccato
static phone wires,
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
more phone conversations contrasts with expulsion from religious
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