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Cliches in Poetry

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Fri Jan 29, 2010 9:13 pm
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OverEasy says...

Cliches in Poetry

So what makes a “cliché”? In my opinion, a cliché is a well worn idea presented in a well worn way. People are irritated by cliches because, often times, they have been subjected to reading them over and over again. But, in my opinion, cliches are not always a bad thing.

What makes a cliché good?

Well, to start, a cliché becomes a cliché because people write about it often, right? Well, if people are writing about it often, it's probably because they think about it often. If people are thinking about something often, it's typically something that most everyone can relate to. On the topic of love, I cannot tell you how many poems and songs and stories I have read. Same with the topic of breakups and loss... so why are these topics so popular, especially with teenagers? Because usually, this is about the time that you really start to experience these emotions, so you write about them.

In my opinion, cliches “done right” are a good thing. Pick a topic that has already been well used and worn and then putting a new twist on it that is completely you. People often want a cliché topic, whether they can accept that or not, they want something that they can relate to and that they have been through in some form or another. And usually any topic like this can easily fall into the “cliche” territory.

What makes a cliché bad?

The first thing that makes a cliché bad is the use of uninteresting and flat language. If you're saying, things like “Oh my love, you are my dove!” chances are... not going to be a super interesting piece. One way to avoid the feel of a droll, already done poem, is to try to not use a really obvious rhyme scheme. Rhyme can be really effective, if done properly. However, choosing words only because they rhyme usually becomes a bit too much. If the words feel forced and unnatural, but they rhyme, chances are they have become a hindrance to your piece, rather than a help.

My favorite way to “spruce up” a poem is to check out a thesaurus, I know we all used them in elementary and middle school, but for poetry writing they really can be a huge benefit. If you're looking for just the right word and it's not there, don't be afraid to look it up! I do it all the time, and I think that it adds some much needed umph to my writing.

Using interesting and effective imagery is another way, and I know, people say that all of the time. Show don't tell! Give us images!

What does that mean though?

“The little girl walked through the meadow.”


“The little girl smiled radiantly,
her legs being tickled by the
long wheat grass and
mid summer flowers,
that seemed to grow to just
for her amusement.”

Without the image, you can picture what is going on, but with the images, you can almost feel it. You want to draw a reader in completely, you want them to smell and feel what's going on around them. Give the reader those little details that bring the meadow off of a story page and into their own mine, so that they feel as though they are there with that little girl.

A good way to write effective imagery? Close your eyes, and when you picture all that is happening in your poem, write it down. It doesn't have to be poetic at first, just write down all that you see and feel and smell in the situation, so that when we read it, we see it and feel it and smell it too. Once you have all the images out onto paper, incorporate them into your poem. Those little details can really help bring a reader into the story. Usually as a writer, you're already there. You're already seeing all of these things, so often times it's very easy to forget the little details that make us go “oooh.”

On Love Poems

I think that love poetry may easily be the most difficult to write about, because it has been done so much and so many different ways. It's difficult to put a new twist onto a love story, because in the long run, no one is really going to be able to feel it quite the way that you do, so that makes it even more difficult for us to be brought in. One way, is again, to focus on your senses, focus on what you feel when you're with that person, and do your best to make us feel it too. One thing that I always find interesting about love is scent. It seems sort of silly, right? But scent is one of the biggest factors in attraction, and though describing smells effectively can be quite difficult, it's actually a pretty effective addition to a poem about love lol. But really, focusing on all of the senses, how you feel, how their skin feels, that little freckle on their neck that your eyes are always drawn to. Those little details are a really great way to bring a reader into the poem with you.

And then, of course there is the daunting task of describing how love makes you feel. Because for everyone, certain things are different, certain things are the same, etc. Everyone experiences things differently. Another good way to approach this is to think of all of the things that are happening to you physically when you are around them, because it's much easier for an audience member to latch onto a physical change than an emotional one. It's sort of a “ask yourself” scenario. Ask yourself what you're doing when your feeling all butterfly ridden and swooney. Once you really start to think about it, the physical reaction becomes more of a focus. That way the reader isn't seeing things like “I love you so much, you will never know, my heart is so heavy, it might just explode!”

In my opinion, love poems are easily the hardest to do effectively lol, but there are my few helpful hints.
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Fri Jan 29, 2010 9:47 pm
Jasmine Hart says...

Hey, this is a great article! Thanks :)
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Thu May 06, 2010 4:40 am
Yuriiko says...

"Life is a poem keep it in the present tense." -Sherrel Wigal

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Sat Jan 08, 2011 5:25 am
WritersUnleashed says...

I've always been anoyed on cliches, but they can be used well, in is a sign of a great poet.

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Tue Apr 12, 2011 11:19 pm
Fran94 says...

This is a really helpful article! I actually try not to use really worn-out cliches. Instead, I try to reinvent cliches in order for them to unique. Thank you very much! I'll save this for future reference.
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Wed Jul 04, 2012 10:45 am
Nargles says...

Hey, I loved this article and I agree a cliché done well is worth reading!!
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Sun Aug 12, 2012 9:55 pm
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AlfredSymon says...

Those are so true OE. It's better with a picture than an emotional verse. Thanks for the tips :)
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