BellaOnline Literary Review

Poetry Cliches to Avoid

We get hundreds of entries for the Mused Literary Magazine. Often the poems submitted cover common themes.

* A wall separates us from others.
* Life is like a tree, the seasons cycle around.
* You miss a loved person and want to see them again.
* You are growing and changing and have to accept the alterations.
* Life is difficult but you can persevere.
* A person is a lump of clay to be molded by someone else.

These are all wonderful thoughts, but remember that we have already read them many, many, many times. After the first 300 times or so, they can feel a bit stale.

If your poem is very basic - "I miss him. He has been gone for so long. When can I see him again?" then it is the same as hundreds of other poems. Your poem will not stand out.

Make sure your poem is unique to you and your situation. Are you pining away in the dusty basement, gazing through a grime-smeared window? Are you sadly desolate on a sunny hilltop, sitting beneath the apple tree where you shared your last picnic? Are you morosely walking down a flight of concrete stairs into the depths of a subway platform, turning your head to avoid the stench of pee from the wooden bench? It is all of those specific details that help the reader really connect to YOUR experience, to learn why your heartbreak or joy or resolution is individual and visceral.

Think about the details. Yes, hair can "blow" in the wind. That is a generic, non-specific image. Hair can more explicitly curl delicately in a breeze, whip like a flag in a gale, stream gently behind you, rise playfully in a gust. Paint a visual image for your reader, let them know exactly what you mean.

Here are some cliches which are best to avoid.

Building a Wall
One of the most common poems we see involves a sad person and "a wall" which blocks out family, friends, and society. The wall was built to protect the person - but over time they realize that the wall has held them in as well. They want to tear down the wall, but they are nervous about it, or unable to do it, or run into other problems.

To see just how cliche the wall image is, get yourself the double album of "The Wall" by Pink Floyd or rent the movie! Not only did they do two full length albums on this topic, but they even made a full length movie going into this topic. There are thousands and thousands of poems by innumerable poets on the topic of walls. This is one of the most common themes in poetry. If you are going to make your "wall" poem stand out, it absolutely must be unique, with great visual details and with a very unique point of view. If not, it will be no different than the myriad of other wall poems which have already been read.

Life is a Cycle of Nature
Especially in the fall and winter, we are innundated with poems about "Life is like nature. In the spring, the little seedlings grow. In the summer, we enjoy the food! In the fall, the crunchy leaves hit us on the head. In the winter, everything is cold and nasty."

Fall seems to bring these poems out in force. We always get an avalanche of poems in fall about how fall represents a cycle of nature. It becomes quite mind numbing.

Yes, the theme is cute the first ten or twenty times - but by the time you've read this the 1,000th time it gets to be a bit overwhelming. Yes, we know life is like nature. Yes, we know that old age is like winter. Please find another metaphor to express your thoughts on how life progresses.

Longing for Someone who is Gone
Maybe the nature of poetry is that the desire to write poetry strikes when you are miserable and alone. Maybe that is why so many poets write angst-filled poem after poem pining after the boy or girl who is no longer in their life. These poems tend to run along the same course. "Before, things were great. We walked hand in hand in sunny meadows. Two hearts were never so in tune! Now, I hear your voice on the wind. The meadow is barren. The flowers have stopped flowering. The butterflies have stopped butterflying. I am alone...

Yes, we have all been there. We all know the angst of losing a loved one. You need to tell us YOUR version of what happened. Instead of generic, seen-a-thousand-times images of "happy hand in hand in meadows", tell us YOUR specific images. Did you used to have cappucino in a red-brick cafe by a cobblestone fountain? When you go by the cafe now, do you see the menu lying at your favorite cast-iron table? What visions are important to YOU? We want to be drawn into your world.

To Learn More  .   .   .

Poetry Submission Guidelines
Poetry Types
Rhyming Poem Guidelines
Poetry Cliches to Avoid  ← You Are Here
Creating Immersive Poetry
Showing vs Telling Poetry
Calculating a Word Count
Proofreading Your Submission
Poetry Submission Form