Mentor Text: Tournament of Hearts by The Weakerthans
- Extended Metaphor
Background- Last weekend was a real treat. Amid the madness of kids’ activities, Christmas concerts, staff parties, and, well, the seeming sustained chaos that is normal life, my wife and I snuck out for a date. One of our favorite songwriters, John K. Samson, made a trek out from the city, and played a show in our local pub. Playing without a band behind him highlighted for me just how much I love his song craft.
I’ve mined his work for this column before, using ‘One Great City’ as a mentor text for writing about place. I’m sure at some point, I’ll feature the wonderful suite of songs from the point of Virtute the Cat. Samson is an amazing writer, telling stories that evoke a sense of character and place.
After seeing him Saturday night, in a momentary reprieve from the songs of the season, we listened to The Weakerthans, because we wanted to hear all the songs we love that hadn’t been played the night before. ‘Tournament of Hearts’ is one of those favorites. In that special way he can, Samson uses the sport of curling, a significant part of winter sport and social life on the Canadian prairies as the focal point of a song that ruminates on a relationship in trouble.
How We Might Use This Text:
Extended Metaphor – Samson’s lyrics have his protagonist lingering at the curling club, post-game, reflecting on why he he’s reluctant to go home – the relationship there is not in a good place.
In the first verses off the song, the protagonist sits alone, having a last beer, avoiding the return home to his partner. The setting and language evokes the social aspect of the game in small towns – the time after the match is as much a part of the draw for many curlers, yet Samson plays with this by having his protagonist abandoned by his teammates. Though his game is done, he uses the “extra end” being played by two other teams as an excuse to stay longer, not an uncommon practice. However, by highlighting how solitary this experience is for the protagonist, Samson allows the norms of the setting to communicate the isolation of the protagonist, making him appear more lonely.
The chorus switches how curling is used as a metaphor for this struggling relationship by focusing on the lingo of curling. To “draw right up to what I want to say” evokes the image of a curling rock coming to rest in or near the house, the desired result when a rock is thrown. Being unable to “stop where I want to stay” and “throwing hack weight” compound the use of curling lingo to reiterate that his actions are not achieving the desired result. Curling is a metaphor for his inability to do what he wants in his relationship.
Once you’ve learned the lingo, and looked at these lyrics, the metaphor becomes apparent. The depth of the metaphor is what makes this such a wonderful mentor text, because it works on multiple levels, discussing the social aspect of the game, as well as using the elements of the game to describe his life. Once this has been established, and discussed, then we could brainstorm how we can use sports metaphors for elements of our own lives. This is a part of how we tend to express ideas today, but perhaps looking at these lyrics can unpack that fact.
I especially enjoy how this extends the metaphor in a different way. Not only does Samson use curling lingo throughout the lyrics to highlight the protagonist’s romantic shortcomings, but also, using the rituals around the game to do this as well. I feel when we look at the norms and rituals around the sport, it allows us more freedom to express what the extended metaphor is representing.
Our writers could choose a sport, and discuss how it reflects elements of their lives. They can also be instructed to explore the metaphorical potential of the rituals associated with that sport. They could be asked to reflect on their lives, and discuss a sport they think reflects their experiences. We could ask them to consider something such as love, and explain their thoughts about it using a sport of their choice as an extended metaphor.
Too often, songs get stuck in my head, most notably the Teacher part of the brain. However, when the songwriter does something as clever as Samson does, it’s worth noting. Sometimes, in a classroom, a good song affords a rockin’ way to explore a device.
How do you get your writers to explore extended metaphor? Do you play with sports metaphors in your classroom?
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