How weird, I thought.
Here's a simple example, from a simple poem (well, not so simple!) that I very much enjoy. I copied it from her website.
Before the pork buns steamed
in the pot, moisture in their
white folds, before the dried tofu
was trimmed into thin strips,
my father raked long-grain rice
out of the mesh bag, poured a bowl
of porridge, spread dried pork
shreds and salted peanuts into
a heap on top. Each morning
my grandmother listened for steam
rising up the stairs. She reclined
on her bed with the blue hydrangea
pattern I wanted. I handed her
the tray, glanced at the expanding
brown mass on her face. Day
after day, my father told me not to
wear white in my hair, not to leave
chopsticks vertical in a bowl of rice.
I did it anyway. One by one, the raisins
I stole from the box on her bedside table.
Don't you love that image of the vertical chopsticks in a bowl of rice? They stick persistantly into memory -- as I made dinner this evening (and it wasn't even rice), I thought of them. As I went to bed last night (no, I wasn't thinking about sex...), I thought of them. That they would be interpreted as bad, rude, whatever, and that she would be told not to leave them that way, but that she persisted in doing so anyway... isn't that emblematic of venerable Chinese custom, of restriction, of her nascent rebellion? And what of those little raisins she keeps stealing, "one by one"? The atmosphere -- her father's role is so deftly described, her grandmother, the expectations, the restraint, the self-regard.... The only thing that gives me pause (in a doubtful way) is the "expanding brown mass on her face". What is that? A smile? A cancer of some kind? I suppose the porridge...
But those chopsticks. Those raisins. Morning porridge -- morning being the beginning of life, + the pabulum we are all fed with... so emblematic! Yet so limpid, so simple...
Because I am rusty on my rhetorical terminology I actually looked up synecdoche in my yellowing (and yes, dust-covered) Holman's Handbook to Literature, to see if I was remembering right. I am sure that many of you are also rusty -- or perhaps virgins to the intellectual rape that is hard-core structuralist criticism (please allow me the luxury of hard-won prejudices) -- so here, at the risk of being charged with a major offence, it is:
Synechdoche: A form of METAPHOR which in mentioning a part signifies the whole or the whole signifies the part. In order to be clear, a good synecdoche must be based on an important part of the whole and not a minor part and, usually, the part selected to stand for the whole must be the part most directly associated with the subject under discussion. Thus under the first restriction we say motor for automobile (rather than tire), and under the second we speak of infantry on the march as foot rather than as hands just as we use hands rather than foot for men who are at work at manual labor.
Question : how the can one critically apply this stuff every day, have it uppermost in mind, and still write passionate, groundbreaking poetry?
Nope. Still not obvious to me. After all these years.
Answer that one for me if you can...