Saturday, February 23, 2008

Poem Prompt 2 - Refreshing Cliché

Clichés abound in our spoken language though, generally, in poetry we tend to avoid them, unless, for example, we're using them deliberately in a persona poem to suggest character. The use of cliché, in this case, can serve to strengthen the reader's belief in the speaker. The use of cliché, or over familiar language, elsewhere can suggest that the poet hasn't worked hard enough to find their own way to express an idea and has fallen back on a communal 'shorthand'.

The American poet, Kay Ryan, consciously works with clichés and familiar expressions, often taking one as the title of a poem and freshening it in some way for the reader. She might 'interpret' it, or explore an idea behind it, usually with brevity (lots of her poems are less than 14lines long) and always with precision, lyricism and wit. I highly recommend her book The Niagara River.

In the following poem she explores the phrase 'green behind the ears', the ideas of youth, innocence, and nostalgia. Read this for inspiration and then, working with your own chosen familiar expression, explore the ideas behind it in a poem of not more than 14 lines.

Off the top of my head, the following clichés/phrases come to mind, but brainstorm for your own list too:

one volunteer is better than ten pressed men
don't count your chickens
beauty is in the eye of the beholder
sly as a fox
pretty in pink
dead men don't talk


Green Behind the Ears

I was still slightly
fuzzy in shady spots
and the tenderest lime.
It was lovely, as I
look back, but not
at the time. For it is
hard to be green and
take your turn as flesh.
So much freshness
to unlearn.

Kay Ryan
from The Niagara River
Grove Press New York 2005

Buy it at The Book Depository.

4 comments:

Sharra said...

I liked this prompt :)

Blood from a stone

The thick skin I’m hiding
behind, blunts your tongue
your anger bruising
on my granite face.

But when you’re all shouted-out,
your whispered words
worm their way in,
puncturing arteries
until the liquid
runs down my face.

Sharra said...

Actions speak louder than words

Whilst we’re not-speaking
you make me
a cup of tea.

Sharra said...

This one's more than 14 lines long - sorry :)

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread

At first I couldn’t wait to grow
into the moon-white dress
accessorised with wings and halo,
couldn’t wait to soar
above the clouds with my harp.

But day after day
of swooping through the sky
left my feet aching
to touch solid ground,
the head of a pin was far too crowded
for me to pirouette properly.
I wanted to dance on the grass
but was kept off by the wisdom
wrapped around me.

One day I decided to abandon flight.
I squeezed into my outgrown
red and yellow stripy suit
fixed bells to my fingers and toes
and helter-skeltered down the street.

Lynne Rees said...

Walking on thin ice

Before the ice cracks
there’s a sigh
like the last attempt
at holding things
together, the moment
before it happens,
the slightest tremble
in the water
invisible to the eye.