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What is Cliche
by Judy Belsky


Cliches are to poems what weeds are to the garden.

They choke the life out of the plants. They interfere with the plan, symmetry and unique character of the garden.

The editor- in- chief can prune and weed, but how does the poet avoid scattering cliches to begin with? What awareness is needed? What replaces the cliche, or better yet, prevents it?

Cliche is avoidance.

Cliche is a dance of avoidance, a dance away from transparency. An attempt to obscure. It's like covering your mouth when you laugh. Something is funny, you have to laugh, but you do not want to admit that . You dilute the laughter as if you are ashamed of your teeth, or embarrassed to be caught in the act of freedom, or open joy. It's an act of hiding and it is an infuriating one. A coy act, because we see both your cover up and your laughter. Which signal do you want us to read?

Cliche is an act of unassertiveness

If you are not in the habit of taking authority, a cliche is a way of slithering away, of hinting at truism rather than at truth, at sentimentality rather than feeling, at an easy approximation rather than at a startling insight. Cliches are a low risk, but they yield an even lower return.

Language is constantly being used up, words become eroded and effaced like a figure on a coin that loses its contours from over handling. We can still identity of the figure but it has lost its crisp relief. What we have, after a time, is a vague resemblance, a caricature of the original engraving. Caricatures reduce complexity to a flat reminder of the original. In a similar way, a poor rendition of a symphony is recognizable but the nuance is missing, the mystery, the sweet lilting heartbreak and excitement that moves us. Something of the spirit is missing. The soul is missing .

Many writers have the desire to write, but the lack of confidence to own the full horse power of that desire. They feel the pull to writing too much to abandon it, but they do not pay their dime to the power. They fear it. Humility makes for poor writing. The humble writer must find something to hide behind. He or she longs to write so s/he hides behind cliches, a series of signals that let the reader know: I am alive and well but hiding. You will know what I mean, because everyone knows what the generalities mean.

Only, they do not convey heart, spirit and soul.

If you dare to avoid universal buzz words, you might reveal the exquisite or funny or heart wrenching truth. Honor your experience. Dare to tell your story. Stop passing around an old coin to club members who could read the poor facsimile blindfolded.

Dr. Judy Belsky is a published author and instructor at Jewish Writing Institute.

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