This week, we’re revisiting prompt #38 from five years ago, January 8, 2011. This prompt can be fun and lends itself to humor.
There’s an old joke about a man who walks out of a theater after seeing Hamlet and says, “I don’t know why everybody thinks Hamlet is such a well-written play, it’s full of clichés.” Of course, phrases from Hamlet such as “in my heart of hearts,” “in my mind's eye” and “there’s the rub” weren’t clichés when Shakespeare wrote them. They’ve become clichés because they’ve been quoted so extensively.
Webster’s defines cliché as “a trite expression or idea,” and trite is defined as “hackneyed or boring from much use; not fresh or original.” In everyday speech, clichés become a kind of verbal shorthand. Clichés, however, require little thought and rarely evoke thought or emotion when they appear in poetry. Readers don't come to poetry looking for what they already know or have heard before. They want fresh content, distinctive perspectives, acute angles – freshness and originality.
Clichés are the worry stones of language: they began angled and sharp but have been rubbed smooth by repeated handling. They are generic, not specific, and poetry requires specifics. In poetry, some topics (i.e. love poems) invite clichés, and clichés often masquerade as similes (“dark as night,” “tears like rain,” “like a bat out of hell,” pale as a ghost, “fast as lightning”). They may also refer to ideas: “a fluffy kitten,” “a pounding heart, “ “sweaty palms.” The caveat when writing is to avoid clichés “like the plague.”
For this prompt, we’re going to work with clichéd phrases for the purpose of becoming more aware of them in our writing. You’ll find a list of clichés at http://clichesite.com/alpha_list.asp?which=lett+1
Here are some starters:
1. Make a list of several clichés and then write a poem around them. You might make this a funny poem in which you accent the obvious.
2. Choose a cliché that really annoys you and write a poem about it.
3. Choose a cliché to describe a relationship you’ve had, and use it as the basis for a poem. Is there a cliché in or about your life that you might write about?
4. Choose a well-worn cliché and re-invent it to create a new meaning. Use the new meaning created by this turnaround to write a poem.
5. Write a poem entirely from clichés and have fun with it.
He Was Just Another Cliché
To this day, I know that time
heals all wounds (all in due
time) but, needless to say, I
was having the time of my life
when the unexpected happened.
His silence was deafening, so I told
him to cut to the chase. I was scared
out of my mind. The moment lasted
an eternity – it seemed to take
forever – so long that I lost track
of time; I stopped in my tracks.
The long and short of it is this: he
left me faster than greased lightning.
My bubble burst. All that glitters
is not gold, and love is blind.