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Similes are intrusive, they beat you over the head, they’re cold and logical, they create distance. These complaints issue from poets as steadily as a river’s onrush, accompanied by their insistence that metaphors are superior. William Carlos Williams grumbled, “the coining of similes is a pastime of very low order, depending as it does upon a nearly vegetable coincidence.” Babette Deutsch in her Poetry Handbook echoes Aristotle when she suggests that similes are “less evocative” than metaphors. These are more reserved in expression but likely no less reserved in sentiment than the poet Jack Gilbert who said in an interview — and I can almost see him spitting the words — “goddamned similes, the weakest kind of resource there is in poetry. People are so much in love with similes. It’s a pity.” Ironically, it was over one of Gilbert’s own similes that a friend and I briefly debated the virtues and vices of them.

Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
(“Falling and Flying”)

More… “Like a Defense of Simile”

Michael T. Young’s third full-length collection, The Infinite Doctrine of Water, was published by Terrapin Books. His other collections are The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost and Transcriptions of Daylight. His chapbook, Living in the Counterpoint, received the Jean Pedrick Award from the New England Poetry Club. He also received a Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. His poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous journals including American Book ReviewThe Ashville Poetry ReviewCimarron ReviewPrick of the Spindle, Shrewand Valparaiso Poetry Review.

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it rained, fell like Jericho
its walls. Water broke

through the roof. All
our pails were full —

Kevin Young, “Flood,” from Dear Darkness

“In the morning,” wrote a wistful Henry David Thoreau, in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, “the river and adjacent country were covered with a dense fog, through which the smoke of our fire curled up like a still subtler mist.” And so the Merrimack River, which young Henry was surveying with a friend in 1839, emerged in print as an idealized thing, a natural phenomenon of a Massachusetts ecosystem inseparable from human activity — mingling its elegant vapor with the “smoke of our fire” — while being warmly respectful of all surrounding features. Nice. More… “A River Runs Through Lit”

James McWilliams is a writer based in Austin, Texas. His work has appeared in Virginia Quarterly ReviewThe New Yorkerand The Paris ReviewHe’s currently writing a book on the art and expression of the American South.

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Speaking of hell, let’s turn to a brief but encompassing metaphor. It comes from the wonderful Russian writer Varlam Shalamov, who spent 17 years in the Gulag, in the northeast, where permafrost and tundra were prevalent and temperatures could reach minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit — in which the prisoners had to work all day. Solzhenitsyn called this place the Gulag’s “pole of cold and cruelty.” This is the metaphor:

Hope is slavery.

That’s it. Three words. It occurs in his collection Kolyma Tales, which the Soviet government forced him to renounce. “Hope is slavery” because it keeps the one who is hoping in expectation of a change for the better. There will be no change for the better, Shalamov says, and for him there was mostly not. This is the metaphor of a man who has learned that hope is his enemy. That hope will steal from him his energy and his ability to trust. It is one of the strongest metaphors I have ever encountered.

More… “The Head and the Heart”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is now available.

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We commonly think of metaphor as a poetic device but it is used in fiction, too, and saves miles of unnecessary words. Metaphor can leap from the desk at which you are writing to darkest Africa or Dante’s hell or your grandmother who died 50 years ago. It leaps tall buildings in a single bound. It can tie the end of the universe to the beginning of the universe. And all you have to do is compare something with something else.

But in fiction, metaphor should be to the point and relatively brief. A novel in which everything becomes something else stretches credulity and grows tiresome. Yawningly tiresome. The reader has come to your story, novel, or poem to find something out. She has not come to it to play word games.

More… “The Shortest Distance Between Two Points is a Metaphor”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is now available.

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Long after the days of Downtown Abbey and personal servants, Chris Moss argues that the best way to be an upstanding modern day (hu)man is definitely not by following Country Life’s tips for being a “modern gentleman.” (Telegraph)

Through endless practice of beauty and perfection, dancers break their bodies — and often their minds. After the enormous physical and mental toll, they still pull in a much lower income than other athletes and artists of comparable prestige. Read about the grace and struggle of two of ballet’s finest. (Der Spiegel)

Humanity is an animal. Is this statement metaphor or fact? Perhaps both. As we strive to understand what sets us apart from the other critters on planet earth, Robert Sapolsky takes a hard look at empathy, metaphor, and the brain chemistry responsible. (Nautilus)

What’s your favorite number? And why? Here are six of the best responses. (Intelligent Life) •

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.

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Criticism isn’t powerful anymore. It doesn’t drive anything, it doesn’t define what is good and bad in culture. Surely this has mostly to do with all the changes in the media landscape over the last few decades. Basically, culture has been democratized. It has been flattened out and multiplied. There are no longer real distinctions between high and low. There’s just more.

The word criticism has its root in the Greek word krinein, which means — in its most original sense — to divide or separate. It’s about sorting things out and making distinctions. Criticism is thus about doing something that is, in this era, almost impossible to do. It is difficult simply to keep up with the vast global cultural output, let alone to make determinations and judgments.

So the critic lives in terror and humiliation, without… More…