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Steppe
02-23-2015, 08:53 AM
Seems to me if something is a cliché the critique ought to say so. A good dictionary of clichés will keep us from using most of them.

But what is meant by "slightly clichéd".

I have a used copy of Theodore Roethke's poems in which someone went through in pencil marking all the places where it was thought he used a cliché.

Roethke won the Pulitzer for those poems.

Ken
02-23-2015, 04:14 PM
maybe the esteemed gentlemen and women who gave out the pulitzer that year were clueless

just because they give out awards does not make them any sort of authority on what is good and what isn't or what is tripe and what is sublime

to some extent they are just guessing same as you and me

I like this and that, but not that or that.

Yippee !!!

Kylabelle
02-23-2015, 04:34 PM
Seems to me if something is a cliché the critique ought to say so. A good dictionary of clichés will keep us from using most of them.

But what is meant by "slightly clichéd".

I have a used copy of Theodore Roethke's poems in which someone went through in pencil marking all the places where it was thought he used a cliché.

Roethke won the Pulitzer for those poems.

That marked up book is a treasure, Steppe.

You raise two interesting points, well, at least two.... First, I don't know if a critique "ought to say" if a cliche is present. I don't always comment on everything I find that I think might improve, but perhaps I should. I'll have to think about this part.

The other is the use of cliche itself. Phrases and images are cliched because they have been used a lot and they get used a lot as a shorthand for something people commonly wish to express -- so they are useful. Using them in poetry is problematic because they are not fresh and people will tend to slide past thinking they already get that part. Which may not be a bad thing in a given poem (as Roethke may have known....)

Early morning ramblings here so people may find things to pick apart in my response -- have at it! I do believe there is a place for anything and everything in poetry; it's a question of finding the place. If a cliche is used out of laziness or failure to find a more precise expression, then it weakens the poem.

Jamesaritchie
02-23-2015, 07:19 PM
maybe the esteemed gentlemen and women who gave out the pulitzer that year were clueless

just because they give out awards does not make them any sort of authority on what is good and what isn't or what is tripe and what is sublime

to some extent they are just guessing same as you and me

I like this and that, but not that or that.

Yippee !!!\

Yeah, that must be it. Those who hand out awards never know what they're doing, even when the committee usually contains some of the best writers and editors in the worlds.

Yep, they award by guessing, not by objective quality. Sure, they do. Have you even read Theodore Roethke?

Jamesaritchie
02-23-2015, 07:25 PM
Seems to me if something is a cliché the critique ought to say so. A good dictionary of clichés will keep us from using most of them.

But what is meant by "slightly clichéd".

I have a used copy of Theodore Roethke's poems in which someone went through in pencil marking all the places where it was thought he used a cliché.

Roethke won the Pulitzer for those poems.


First, a cliche used the right way can be brilliant.

Second, when did the reader make those comments in the used copy? They may have been cliches when the reader made the notes, but not cliches when Roethke actually wrote them. No cliche starts out as a cliche. Some brilliant writer coins the term, and lesser writers not good enough to come up with original phrases reuse the brilliant writer's phrase so often it becomes a cliche. Roethke died, what, fifty years ago? He certainly coined some brilliant phrases that went on toe become cliches.

Third, who gives a rat's whisker what some reader jotted in a book? That reader may have been a sixteen year old high school kid who wouldn't know the history of a writer, or the history of a cliche, from a pimple on his own nose.

CassandraW
02-23-2015, 08:44 PM
First, a cliche used the right way can be brilliant.

Second, when did the reader make those comments in the used copy? They may have been cliches when the reader made the notes, but not cliches when Roethke actually wrote them. No cliche starts out as a cliche. Some brilliant writer coins the term, and lesser writers not good enough to come up with original phrases reuse the brilliant writer's phrase so often it becomes a cliche. Roethke died, what, fifty years ago? He certainly coined some brilliant phrases that went on toe become cliches.

Third, who gives a rat's whisker what some reader jotted in a book? That reader may have been a sixteen year old high school kid who wouldn't know the history of a writer, or the history of a cliche, from a pimple on his own nose.

I agree with all of this.

I often see "cliche" tossed out as a flip dismissal in a critique, and I don't find it particularly valuable or thoughtful, and very often, it's not particularly accurate, either.

To paraphrase Kylabelle, if the words in question are tired and cause the reader to gloss over an image or metaphor when he should be honing in on it, it's a problem, and the poem would be best served by finding fresh words. But sometimes a cliche in the right spot can be used quite effectively, and sometimes it can be twisted in a fresh way.


ETA:

Heh. I did a stint student-teaching high-school English before I went to law school. One of my more pretentious students dismissed Shakespeare for using too many cliches. It was delicious.

Steppe
02-23-2015, 08:56 PM
It states on the back of "The Collected Works Of Theodore Roethke" that -

"With the publication of Open House in 1941, Theodore Roethke began a career which established him as one of the most respected American poets."

I didn't buy the markings then and don't now. Of more concern to me is the critique "a little clichéd".

Would that mean the critique thinks it's a little overused but not quite a cliché yet? Lazy language? Language not up to the rest of the poem?

I would not have brought Roethke into this except for that book with those markings.

I suppose that what I was trying to say by doing it was that -

what is a cliché to one person, is not to another.

Kylabelle
02-23-2015, 09:04 PM
Perhaps "slightly cliched" means something along the lines of "somewhat expected" -- though that's just a guess.

CassandraW
02-23-2015, 09:22 PM
Perhaps "slightly cliched" means something along the lines of "somewhat expected" -- though that's just a guess.

Like most things, it probably depends on context and who's using the words.

As far as pointing it out in a critique goes -- I'll mention it if I feel the words in question stopped me in my tracks or in some way impaired my appreciation for the poem, and I feel a fresher image or metaphor might better serve the poet's purpose.

Really, that's my approach in any critique. If something is just a seething mass of cliches and tortured language, I generally will avoid commenting altogether (unless the writer begs for feedback). And if it's working for me, I'll either say nothing or give a general "I like this."

As a rule, I'll only go out of my way to point out what I perceive as a flaw or what I think might be improved if there's just a specific niggle or two that stopped me in my tracks, and I think might be tweaked to the poem's advantage. (And sometimes, when I think it over, I realize that the poet's original choice is in fact a good choice after all.)

I do sometimes feel that critiquers feel compelled to point out something wrong with the poem, or else they don't think they're doing their job. And all too often, they fall back on "somewhat cliche" "you could tighten this" etc., whether or not it's really applicable. Very often I've seen "you could tighten this" thrown out at pieces where IMO every word is working for the poem, and "somewhat cliche" at a piece that IMO is quite vivid.

ETA:

I've thrown out "you could tighten this" or "cliche" myself, but I usually try to elaborate a bit or give an example. Just thrown out there as a general statement, I don't think it's helpful (which is the purpose of a critique).

Kylabelle
02-23-2015, 09:23 PM
Bingo.

To use a cliche.

Ambrosia
02-23-2015, 09:50 PM
I often think people are too concerned with whether something is "cliche''. If it works, it works. If it doesn't, then by all means point it out. If it works but could be better if said cliche' was rewritten, suggest it. But, I'm not sure I understand "slightly cliche'". It is or it isn't, imo.

Steppe
02-23-2015, 10:19 PM
I sometimes feel that the critique is trying to say something but either because it does not have the time or energy to explain, it falls back on "slightly clichéd", which can mean anything.

I do think that if the critique were to suggest the language at this point is not up to the rest, would be of more value to the poet.

William Haskins
02-23-2015, 10:26 PM
what recently earned my (relatively good-natured) snark was the critique that components of the poem "seemed a tad cliche."

this is the kind of weasel-wording i think steppe is referring to.

in my estimation, if a critic levels an accusation of employing cliche which, by definition, means the image/phrase/metaphor has been so overused as to become more or less meaningless, said critic should have the depth of knowledge to cite where it was used, either freshly or one of the presumably multitude of rehashed times that relegated it to cliche.

otherwise, it just seems like taking a tad of a piss.

Usher
02-23-2015, 10:31 PM
How many people call something a cliche when they like it? Not very often. A cliche is a cliche because it can be very good and as a result has been overused. Find a new and original setting for that cliche and it becomes interesting again.

Xelebes
02-23-2015, 10:33 PM
The cliche isn't so much of the problem, but how out of place that cliche is. Bob Dylan made a remark upon songwriters of his early day and the conflict that they often found themselves in: trying to be the everyman and as a consequence, speaking as a no-man. That is, one trying to get the broadest of appeal by using cliches that are predicated solely in reminding us what we should be feeling, even if we are incapable of doing so or that the feeling we should be feeling about something is trite and fabricated. The cliche, just like any other tool of the poet, is there for us to use as a shorthand that is not supposed to rip us away from what the poet is trying to say, but to reaffirm the place.

The cliche out of place is what makes the poetry of William McGonagall so hilarious to read.

CassandraW
02-23-2015, 10:39 PM
How many people call something a cliche when they like it? Not very often.

Unless someone is simply looking to tear something down. Which, alas, happens now and then.

William Haskins
02-23-2015, 10:47 PM
How many people call something a cliche when they like it? Not very often. A cliche is a cliche because it can be very good and as a result has been overused. Find a new and original setting for that cliche and it becomes interesting again.

this sounds an awful lot like apologia for people using cliche simply as a substitute for "it fell flat for me," which, by the way, is a perfectly valid critique.

but saying it is cliche is a veiled appeal to authority, as it suggests that there exists multiple uses of the same element creating the trail of decay that neutered it.

Steppe
02-23-2015, 11:00 PM
Another reason for this O.P., is that in a poem I recently posted for critique, I used the image, "time out of mind". Cat, in his critique did not beat around the bush, but said outright that it was clichéd.

I wasn't sure it was and anyway was loath to get rid of it. However I did and came up with language more in keeping with the rest of the poem.

I don't mind a critique that says "it is a cliché". I can go to my dictionary of clichés and see for myself.

More puzzling is, "slightly clichéd" because I don't know what is meant.

I do hope more of you will have your say on this!

CassandraW
02-23-2015, 11:11 PM
In one of my poems, I used the phrase "glared daggers into your back." As someone pointed out, and as I was well aware, "staring daggers" at someone is certainly a phrase that has been used before. But, after much thought, I kept it in the poem. In that one particular instance, I thought "fresher" images felt distracting, and did not serve the purpose of that line.

As I recall, in one of Stew's poems, she used the phrase "and you can't take a joke." My first reaction, and that of a couple of others, was that she might find a fresher phrase that matched the freshness of the rest of her poem. But the more I rolled the poem as a whole in my head, the more I thought Stew's decision to use that line was the right one for the poem.

We aren't all going to connect emotionally with every poem, or every line of a poem. We might write it differently if it were our own. But before we dismiss something as "cliche" in a critique -- or automatically conclude that it therefore ought to be changed -- it's worthwhile to weigh whether, in the context of the poem, it truly is a cliche, and whether, even if it is, it isn't nonetheless serving the purposes of the poem.

That is, if you genuinely are seeking to be helpful and to engage with the poem and the poet.


ETA:

I should add -- I was not remotely offended by having my "glaring daggers" pointed out as potentially a cliche. Not only was it on-point in that instance, but it also was part of a detailed and very thoughtful critique on my work, for which I was quite grateful (thank you, Kuwi). It was not in the least dismissive, and it was certainly something I found worthwhile to reconsider.

ETA:

That said, I have sometimes been irked by piss-and-go critiques on other people's poems that dismissed them as "cliche" without much (or any) basis.

Ken
02-24-2015, 01:20 AM
\

Yeah, that must be it. Those who hand out awards never know what they're doing, even when the committee usually contains some of the best writers and editors in the worlds.

Yep, they award by guessing, not by objective quality. Sure, they do. Have you even read Theodore Roethke?

Just because a writer or an editor is great at the former and later in verbal form, respectively, does not mean that qualifies them to access another writer's work. Maybe they can; maybe they can't. There's always a chance they will get it wrong. Though of course a far better one they'll get it right, at least compared to us joes and janes.

Still, there's a chance. Subjectivity and all.

Haven't read Roethke. Will check out a poem or two outta curiousity.

poetinahat
02-24-2015, 03:58 AM
Excellent thread and discussion. Thank you, Steppe, for raising it.

I've used the term cliché in critiques before, but tried to keep it to refer to specific phrases. If a passage or poem didn't move me, I've tried to be more specific about what didn't do so, and/or why.

Awarding prizes is always going to be subjective to a degree. Hell, this is poetry. I guess we all have to decide, constantly, how much we back our own opinion, and how much we trust in people who have been doing this longer, and better, than we have. There will always be, I suppose, some element of appeal to authority.

I'm with Cassandra and Steppe, though - in principle, any word or phrase, however worn, can have its use and purpose.

There's also a danger in trying too hard to be unique. The loveliest thing about poetry, I think, is that there is no autopilot, and there is no right or wrong.

Nevertheless, there is wonderful, and there is just plain crap.

Usher
02-24-2015, 04:04 AM
this sounds an awful lot like apologia for people using cliche simply as a substitute for "it fell flat for me," which, by the way, is a perfectly valid critique.

but saying it is cliche is a veiled appeal to authority, as it suggests that there exists multiple uses of the same element creating the trail of decay that neutered it.

That's how I see it.

zanzjan
02-24-2015, 05:12 AM
Third, who gives a rat's whisker what some reader jotted in a book?

I dunno. I was taking a heavy math class in college that was kicking my ass, and one day I flipped open my (used) textbook to the next chapter and discovered the previous owner (who had been largely absent up until that point) had scrawled in large letters across the top of the page: "That is your hand, Buckaroo!"

Weirdly, the class seemed easier after that.

What some other reader writes in a book is a window; it may not be one worth peering out, or it might. But I find it useful not the begrudge opportunities :)

Kylabelle
02-24-2015, 05:25 AM
That's exactly the reason I love books a previous owner has made notes in, of whatever kind. Sonetimes there's nothing of interest but sometimes there's treasure.

CassandraW
02-24-2015, 05:36 AM
I always get stuck with the used books in which some idiot has highlighted or underlined every other passage rather than those in which some rare and sensitive soul has written his most profound and soul-stirring observations.

Kylabelle
02-24-2015, 05:41 AM
Grocery lists. Phone numbers. Notes in class. Small arguments. Embarrassing love notes. All that.

Who was there?

Also, slips of paper, train tickets, backs torn off of greeting cards, receipts for some other purchase....

signs of life I guess.

Steppe
02-24-2015, 06:25 AM
I just got back from another trip to 1/2 price books in Olympia. I already have "The Facts On File Dictionary of clichés" by Christine Ammer, but looked up in one they had on sale and found "time out of mind" which she says has been a cliché since 1800.

Ok, Ok, I changed it already. Thank you Cat.

She also lists "down the road" ??. I wonder if she needed to fill up her book so it would sell? Do you honestly think that every time we use "down the road" in a poem, it must be considered a cliché?

Problem is, once we start down this road, where do we stop? What is left for us to make poems out of?

Must we look up every phrase and image?

Magdalen
02-24-2015, 06:30 AM
Agree more than a tad with William & others & appreciate the thread. I've recently tossed a well-worn phrase (cited as cliché) over a metaphor salad & had it sent back to the kitchen, but that just made me work a little harder to turn the phrase - although I almost dismissed the critter who failed to use the accent mark (cliché).

I'd also like to agree with the idea that a cliché can be opportune & well-placed, or even humorous, when used with a light hand. For example, I was mulling some lyrics about my trusty automobile and I thought about saying that she'd "been around the block" with albeit a more literal sense than the actual phrase. Anyhow- just thought I'd chime in. Ding.

Debbie V
02-24-2015, 06:34 AM
I often point out cliches. I believe it is valuable for the author to know because cliches are tools and should be used with intention. Pointing it out allows for that intention which may or may not have been there all along. I do try to elaborate on what exactly makes the phrase or entire piece cliche.

I may even be one of those people who says slightly cliche. That may mean you've twisted the cliche but not far enough for me. It also may mean I've seen something similar a few times, but I'm not sure it's reached the point of qualifying as a full blown cliche. Cliches develop over time after all. Sometimes it is just a feeling of familiarity, like I've seen that piece before even though there's no way I could have. Again, I try to elaborate.

Also, none of these is necessarily bad. It's about giving the author tools to make decisions with intention.

How do you do accent marks on here? I know how to get them in Word but not here.

CassandraW
02-24-2015, 06:44 AM
although I almost dismissed the critter who failed to use the accent mark (cliché).

I admit I'm guilty of this. I haven't yet figured out how to put an accent mark into my posts in a way that isn't a cumbersome cut-and-paste-from-Word pain in the ass, and I usually can't be bothered unless I'm concerned someone might mistake my meaning if I don't use it.

Xelebes
02-24-2015, 06:51 AM
I dunno. I was taking a heavy math class in college that was kicking my ass, and one day I flipped open my (used) textbook to the next chapter and discovered the previous owner (who had been largely absent up until that point) had scrawled in large letters across the top of the page: "That is your hand, Buckaroo!"

Weirdly, the class seemed easier after that.

What some other reader writes in a book is a window; it may not be one worth peering out, or it might. But I find it useful not the begrudge opportunities :)

I'm also reminded of Fermat's Last Theorem, if we are going down the mathematics trail for a moment.

poetinahat
02-24-2015, 07:24 AM
Clichés themselves, it would seem, are well understood. Then there's the second part of the question: can you refer to an entire poem, or a passage, as cliché? Does that make sense, and is it helpful?

I admit I'm guilty of this. I haven't yet figured out how to put an accent mark into my posts in a way that isn't a cumbersome cut-and-paste-from-Word pain in the ass, and I usually can't be bothered unless I'm concerned someone might mistake my meaning if I don't use it.

In Windows, at least on my laptop, it's Alt-Fn-0233 (not the standard number keys; some keys have other values when you hold down the Fn key; on my laptop, those values are shown in blue on the key)

CassandraW
02-24-2015, 08:01 AM
In Windows, at least on my laptop, it's Alt-Fn-0233 (not the standard number keys; some keys have other values when you hold down the Fn key; on my laptop, those values are shown in blue on the key)

Thank you. Alas, my keyboard is apparently not as fancy as yours. I'll have to play with it. For now, the best I can do is type the word correctly in Microsoft Word, and then cut and paste it here. I'm usually much too lazy for that. It's all I can do to press my shift key. And I only use that to annoy Haskins.

Xelebes
02-24-2015, 08:13 AM
É for me is where my question mark is supposed to be. I use the Canadian Multilingual Keyboard setting. Not really useful for Canadian French because the diacritics are all in funny spots.

Steppe
02-24-2015, 08:40 AM
Lately on AW when I type in "cliché" as I just did, the accent mark is auto supplied.

Kylabelle
02-24-2015, 06:03 PM
I responded to the latest Poetry Prompt (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?p=9313672#post9313672) not thinking about this thread, but in light of it, I expanded my efforts. It's not that good a poem, but it illustrates the use of cliche:

(revised version)

They Say

Play the hand you're dealt.
This hand?
Callused, stained,
thumbing a scar? Or
the one that clutches a steel bar.
I'm lucky I won a corner spot.
This cage is small.
There's no lying down
except in shifts.
We keep our hands
to ourselves.

Brighten the corner where you are.
That was in a church song.
My back rubs the bars, my butt
polishes the bare floor.
There's your brightening.
The sun hurts
and there's no place to hide.
Darkening my corner
is what I want,
but I have to watch for gleaming
bright eyes in the night.

Bloom where you're planted.
Once I'm planted I'll bloom.
Let me get there,
into some cool deep dirt
where I can spread out
where all this
will stop. Then, sure,
I'll bloom.
Send up a flower
before that, you say?
Ha. Say that to my face.
Make my day.

Kylabelle
02-24-2015, 06:06 PM
Then again, is a homily (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/homily) a type of cliche?