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Exposé at the Cliché Café

Exposé at the Cliché Café

Hello folks. This is a reprint of an article I wrote in 2009. Obviously being an 8 year old article, I have grown and learned and changed, so not every iota of this article is exactly the perfect representation of the view I hold today, but it is close enough as to almost be indiscernible. Enjoy!

Exposé at the Cliché Café

Let us open that can of worms called cliché.

Can of worms?” Hey—that IS a cliché.

Oh, the experts all say (all the ones I know) “Never use cliché.”


What if the cliché embraces the exact allusive image or concept I am after?

What if the point of my poem involves playing with cliché?

Who made cliché taboo and what authority did they have to do it?

Here’s the real problem (and it is the same problem with those that whine about rhyming too)—they see a few poor attempts at using cliché or rhyming—many young or new poets are not skilled enough to use them forcefully or powerfully, and so they make a BLANKET rule—avoid cliché or avoid rhyming “because they are traditional, not fresh, unoriginal, and amateurish.”

Oh, I know, the definition of the word itself means a trite, stereotyped expression that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse. But what some call cliché, others call wise sayings, quips, proverbs, and mores. They have become a permanent part of a living language.


What they should say is avoid the “amateurish use of cliché and rhyming.” In other words, just get good at it—and to get good at it means you have to use it and lay those wonderful eggs before people—learn—and move on.

I absolutely LOVE the effective use of both cliché and rhyming.  When done masterfully or effectively they both can add power to poetry.

If I come across a cliché that DETRACTS from a poem, then I may note that to the author—but I often stop to evaluate WHY the cliché was used—and does it have a purpose or effect.

To me a cliché is really just another word in our language. Just like an individual word it has a universally accepted meaning, but instead it is a phrase with a universally accepted meaning.

I am not afraid to use the word jungle just because it has been used so often before, or divine.

Oh, don’t use the word divine in your poem—it is overused and will make you an instant amateur.  See—isn’t that ridiculous to think that we would avoid certain words because they are too popular or too familiar?

So what about cliché then? It carries universally accepted meaning that maybe I want to conjure, allude to, and add to the stream of thought in my poem.

If I want to use it I WILL.  I just better do a damn good job of it.

Here’s an example where I monopolize on a cliché for a poem:


He saw the clouds
and took his umbrella
on his sleepy carousel life
round and round
up and down
eighty floors high
to eradicate his stack of papers
before his noon expedition
to the seething jungle below.

©2007-2021 NavWorks Press and DE Navarro. All rights reserved.

We have heard the cliché where corporate life is compared to a jungle—or the hustle and bustle of city life in all its elements is compared to a jungle.

By simply referring to the city below as the “seething jungle below”, my allusion captures all that the cliché embodies and is already familiar in the minds of my readers so I do not have to add any further words to say what I want to say.

Think about it, I don’t have to talk about all the wheeling and dealing, the gangs and drug lords, the business moguls and corporate lords, the hustle and bustle of cars, trains, trucks, planes, and every other moving object on wheels, the masses of people pouring across every street, the noises of brakes squealing, horns blowing, sirens wailing, jets swooshing, and on and on, that make up the “jungle” of the city.

Since the cliché is universally accepted, it seamlessly added all this additional meaning and contributed to the poem while preserving an incredible economy of words because I did not have to invent some other comparison here to bring all that to bear.  In this case, it is slipped into the poem in a very smooth manner that is really hardly noticeable—it fit seamlessly.

However, if I stated somewhere in the poem that the “city is like a concrete jungle,” can you see how much weaker that would be, over worn, unoriginal, and yet I’d be presenting it like it was some new revelation—now that’s amateurish.

See the difference.  My poem above made it a foregone conclusion that the reader is already familiar with this metaphor, and in a passing way made allusion to it and thus it carried freshness and power in it.  It compacted language and added to the poem.

Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.

A cliché in time may save nine lines of rhyme (or something like that).

I’ll get off my sudsy oratorical platform now. Hey wasn’t that fresh and new and clean—I didn’t say “soapbox.”  Hmmm.  Not really. Avoiding cliché may lead to some egg being laid like a “sudsy oratorical platform” instead of a “soapbox.” Okay, that was a stretch, I know rephrasing a cliché in a alternate way was NOT what they meant by fresh and new, but it was fun anyway.

I’m always teaching balance. Bad cliché and bad rhyming are bad—so avoid them.

But there is such a thing as powerful cliché and powerful rhyming—and we’ll never get there if we think there is a rule that we can’t use cliché and rhyming because it is trite and traditional.

So fellow derelicts of poetic expression—give me your best cliché and show me how it can be done, how it can be integrated into a poem, how it can be a powerful allusion.


P.S. I do not use a whole hell of a lot of cliché in my work, by the way, just certain few poems in which the purpose is well thought through and chosen by deliberation. Thanks.

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