Saturday, July 30, 2016

Summer Rerun – Clichéd Phrases

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

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.


  1. These summer reruns give old prompts a "new lease on life" (pardon the cliche)! :-)

  2. The list of cliches is great. My students will love this one.

    1. I found that list by accident and am so glad I did. Hope your students enjoy the prompt.

  3. Love

    Jesus loves you
    this I know
    love is over-rated
    over used
    I love ice cream
    my cat
    my apartment
    love is unbelievable
    he said he loved her
    just before beating her to death
    he said he loved me
    then he left
    love love love
    all you need is love
    where is it?

    1. Hi, Risa,

      I absolutely love this poem. For me, it is one of your best! :)

      I have tried to do this week's prompt, but, am unable to come up with anything. However, I am glad that I didn't— your poem by far surpasses whatever I would have written!

    2. Well done, Risa! Almost as if love itself has become a cliche (or at least use of the word).

  4. Amita Jayaraman (Mumbai)August 6, 2016 at 10:05 AM

    I so much enjoy the poems posted as comments. Thank you, Risa. And thank you to Lewis Oakwood too when he posts his poems.