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The Study of Shells

by Cliff Hanger 

Posted: 16 May 2016
Word Count: 153
Summary: Sorry I'm making you comment a lot but I've got plenty of catching up to do.This is my stab at a metaphorical poem. I've gone back to the sea but the birds will come back at some point.Is it a bit long and therefore boring? Thanks for your time. Jane

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The Study of Shells
keeps a nervous nature safe.
Turns the edge of a steel knife
but can be punctured by creatures
as soft as the human tongue.
make holes in the sand with
their natural spades.
Quite adept at jumping. Will
do anything to avoid conflict.
spiral around their staircases until
they come to their pinprick points.
Difficult to avoid as they inhabit
all the world’s seas and oceans.
exceedingly common.
Cling to any rocks that let 
them anchor themselves.
By no means a safe edible.
not remotely cut throat.
Burrow deep to avoid detection
but can’t avoid spouting. 
Caught out by electric jolts.
Stick to whatever provides a firm
support. Sink into a depression to protect
their vulnerable edges.
Not easily detached from their vacuum.
After close examination
keep safe in a special cabinet.
Take out from time to time.
Preserve and treasure.

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Comments by other Members

James Graham at 20:13 on 17 May 2016  Report this post
Hi Jane - This has a neat structure, with the names like subtitles at the beginning of each stanza. The first stanza is a general introduction and the last a general conclusion, so it’s nicely rounded off.

Each stanza tells us, with a touch of humour, something interesting or curious about each creature. I like especially:
Quite adept at jumping. Will
do anything to avoid conflict.

And also:
Not easily detached from their vacuum.

But there are others.

There are two lines which strike me as too matter-of-fact for poetry.
Difficult to avoid as they inhabit
all the world’s seas and oceans.

This reads rather like something taken from a Wikipedia article. It can be hard to distinguish between what’s ‘poetic’ and what’s ‘prosaic’, but I think you could come up with something wittier than this. Another way of telling us there are huge numbers of towers everywhere in the world. Maybe you could come up with a new variation on the old chestnut, ‘If they were laid end to end…’ (how far would they reach?)  All round the coast of Australia?

I thought of this, which you’re welcome to use, or adapt:
They’re everywhere, in all the seas.
There are more of them than us.

Now I’ve no idea whether there are more towers than humans in the world. It could be ‘There seem more of them than us’. Or ‘Almost as many of them as us’.

These are only suggestions, of course. From what I know of your poetry so far, I’d guess you can come up with something better. The general idea is to tell us they’re all over the world, but in a more humorous way.

The rest of the poem is quite matter-of-fact, but we must remember that as well as conveying your message about cherishing these natural forms, you are also giving us information about them. Introducing us to them. In the other stanzas you do it interestingly enough.

One last suggestion. I feel the last stanza lacks passion, enthusiasm, to some extent. There’s a way you could add something more uplifting. Leave out the line ‘After close examination’ (the whole poem implies this, so it’s not essential to say it). Instead, compare your specimens with something precious and wonderful:
are like…

Gold, diamonds: these are a bit of a cliché. Can you think of something to compare them with? After that, keep the last three lines the same.

Let me know what you think of these suggestions.


Cliff Hanger at 22:26 on 17 May 2016  Report this post
Thank you for your comments, James. 

So. I see there's work to do here. I don't seem to have got across the fact that I'm not really talking about shells at all but characteristics of humans. I think I concentrated on the structure above the content so that's the problem. I almost imagined it as a lecture or a presentation and I think that may confuse matters and account for the wikipedia edge (I agree it's too prosaic). I also agree about it needing a bit of oomph at the end so I'll think on that. Lot's of food for thought. I'll get my scissors out I think or a hacksaw (hah, hah). I may have trawled all I can out of the sea now.

The flash poetry group looks fun. 



James Graham at 19:40 on 18 May 2016  Report this post
Hi Jane – I did notice in your summary at the top that this is a metaphorical poem, but I didn’t see it as a sustained metaphor. This can be either just an extended metaphor within a poem, or a whole poem that’s a metaphor. If it’s the latter, the real subject isn’t stated but written about as if it were something else. You are writing about people as if they were (or were like) shellfish.

It doesn’t really come off, but I think you’ve understood the reason: concentrating too much on structure over content. I’m fairly sure that if you write a continuous free verse poem, just starting new lines where you think it’s appropriate, you’ll have a much better chance of succeeding.

And be careful to avoid characteristics that can’t be seen as shared by shellfish and humans, e.g. inhabiting the world’s oceans, or not being ‘a safe edible’. Focus on things you can say about shellfish that you can also say about humans. One good example is
Quite adept at jumping. Will
do anything to avoid conflict

and another is the Limpets stanza. You have material already that could be recycled.

Don't worry, you're not alone in finding sustained metaphor a bit of a challenge. Established poets find it not too easy!

So, I imagine you want to take your time over this. Meanwhile, you can post another poem anytime. I don’t mind if they come thick and fast, I have time to comment.



Why not join Flash Poetry? It is fun. You don't have to enter every week if you're really busy with something else.

FelixBenson at 09:32 on 28 May 2016  Report this post
Hi Jane
I can see you have had a lot of comments here already, and by reading them I know what you were trying to do. I don't think i would have immediately seen the metaphor exactly, (types of people transposed as types of shellfish), but I could probably have seen the general area you were going for even if I didn;t pick up all the nuances. I think it's inventive and lively, and though you might be working on other drafts or reconsidering the structure, I do very much like the idea, that here on the shore you can find evidence of all humanity.  I liked your rockpool poem which you posted a while back too. Sorry I didn't get around to commenting, I am just trying to get back into the swing of regularly commenting in this group, after losing my poetry mojo somewhat....But your poems feel fresh and imeediate, and with some very inventive language. Looking forward to reading more of your stuff.


Cliff Hanger at 16:34 on 28 May 2016  Report this post
Thank you Kirsty for being so encouraging and inclusive. I am still working on Shells aka Conchology and it's taking shape. James' s comment about lacking passion was insightful and has helped. I've only been writing poetry for a few months so it's going to be patchy but I appreciate all of your comments and am keen to develop. 

I hope you get your poetry mojo back -  it doesn't look lost to me.


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