This is the eleventh in a series of micro craft essays exploring the finer points of writing. Check back each Tuesday for a new Craft Capsule.
Years ago a distinguished poet hosted our class’s workshops at her home in Virginia. The house was perched on an incline; down the hill was her writing cabin alongside a pond. We met at her dining room table and tried not to be distracted by the hawks swooping outside the windows.
A student brought in a draft that compared the scent of gin to Scotch tape. Setting aside all other matters of theme or craft, the discussion lingered on this comparison. The simile was bright and original. But was it accurate? That only a few in the room had ever sampled gin, and even then only of an aristrocrat variety, did not aid our analysis.
Reaching her limit, the professor sprang up from the table. “We’re settling this,” she said. She walked into the kitchen and retrieved a roll of Scotch tape. She went to a corner of the dining room, opened a cabinet, and pulled out a bottle. She walked the gin around the table so we could sniff accordingly.
Lesson one? To compare the scents of Scotch tape and gin doesn’t quite work, because the former obscures the latter’s floral qualities.
Lesson two? Always be prepared to have your simile put to the test.
Lesson three? Never let a turn of figurative language, no matter how vivid or clever, hijack what you’re trying to say. I can’t remember who wrote that poem, or where its heart lay. I only remember the gin and Scotch tape.
Sandra Beasley is the author of three poetry collections, including Count the Waves (Norton, 2015), and a memoir. Her website is SandraBeasley.com.