Cliché in Poetry?!


To a poet the fear of creating a page full of clichéd phrases is enough to incite a huge, inconvenient bout of writer’s block. However, avoiding Cliché really isn’t all that daunting. In some instances it can simply be a case of changing or updating the modifier or using unusual lexis. For example “it was a scorching hot day” may become “tiny heated hands of sand scorched burns onto the bottom of our feet”. Yes, I admit that sentence may be a bit out there; however, what it does exemplify is how quickly a cliché can be eliminated. Keeping in mind one golden rule SHOW DON’T TELL will distance you further and further from cliché as you progress writing I (almost) promise! Aim to show the reader your point as oppose to merely telling them, even if that does mean endless nights re-writing wordplay or unexpected descriptions until you are satisfied. So long as they are consistent with each other and actually do articulate a coherent image, the guesswork will keep your poem in the company of your reader for longer.

Techniques to avoid cliché:

  1. Unexpected descriptions

  2. Unusual lexis (words that may not be the first point of call when describing an object, place, emotion etc.)

  3. Use of wordplay or puns

  4. Using the conditional (could, would, should)

  5. Compound adjectives

  6. Concrete nouns

  7. Subversion of scale (cue Lewis Carroll)

  8. Personification

  9. Dismantling cliché (facing it head on)

  10. Describing something through its absence

  11. Fluctuations  

  12. Dissonance

  13. Estranging

  14. Form (unusual line endings)

Think of crafting poetry as being a discipline similar to a surgical procedure, whereby laziness is simply unfathomable. Whilst using a stereotype may fit initially and provide a temporary cure for the body of your work. Ask yourself whether in the long run will it be healthy and substantial enough to continuously evoke strong emotions, opinions, reactions or whatever your poetry may compel from your reader?

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