clichés and coincidences

Novice poets are frequently warned about clichés; sometimes, though, it’s hard to know exactly what the people doing the warning have in mind. Is a cliché the same as an idiom? Is it just a common collocation of words? Can a single word be a cliché?

(In answer to that last question, I’ve posted several times in the past on the subject of “forbidden words” in poetry.)

The thing about clichés is that they mean the writer hasn’t done more than scratch the surface. And for poetry that matters a lot more than for some other types of writing.
Continue reading “clichés and coincidences”

shadow play

I was never any good at art when I was a child: I think I stopped actually looking at things and relied on too many pre-conceptions about what I expected to see. For example, shadows were black. Well, I suppose I thought they might be different shades of grey, but they certainly weren’t blue, pink and orange.

coloured shadows
I suspect painting black shadows is a beginner’s mistake, like using clichés in poems instead of trying to look beyond the expectations and see things anew.
Continue reading “shadow play”

clichés and home-comings

primroses
I’m currently taking a poetry class where many of the students are from overseas. They know England from their reading – many have studied English Literature – but this is their first personal experience.

Knowing the country and its culture as well as they do, it must feel like a sort of home-coming. It certainly provokes such delightful situations as when one asked about the flowers on the secretary’s desk: “Are those daffodils? Like Wordsworth’s daffodils?”
Continue reading “clichés and home-comings”

purging the purple

spanish fan close up

I don’t usually just point readers to another article elsewhere, but Michael Erard’s Escaping One’s Own Shadow over on the New York Times opinion pages strikes me as well worth reading and too complex to really do justice to here.
Continue reading “purging the purple”

news and clichés

Reading the ‘newspaper’ on Tuesday – the 20p Independent i – I got the impression that the concept of news must have changed considerably since I used to read the UK press on a regular basis. There was no text other than ‘headlines’ on the front page, and inside it seemed all to be gossip, sport or opinion. Even what I think was intended as an editorial struck me as no more weighty than a teenager’s blog entry.

Last night, I watched the BBC news on television instead. Sadly it was no better.
Continue reading “news and clichés”

writers, narrators, realism and reality

I’m a firm believer that poetry isn’t all about sunny situations and pleasant people, which is one reason why it’s particularly important to separate what’s said in the poem from the person who wrote it.

It is, however, often difficult to show a narrator’s inadequacies without the writer coming across as inadequate as a poet or as a person: if you create a convincingly weak character in your writing, it isn’t always clear that the weakness is intentional.
Continue reading “writers, narrators, realism and reality”