There are some topics that invite cliché and should therefore be avoided as themes for poems. Those include: Babies, Love, and Grandmothers. Yes, I know, that’s what everyone wants to write about. But here’s the problem. Try writing about your baby without getting all gooey or using the word angel or angelic. A love poem free of clichés? Good luck. As for grandmothers, that’s our theme for this week’s poetry classes.
My teen students were immediately silenced when I suggested the topic. Always a bad sign. But after a few minutes of prodding, I learned that the problem was that they assumed they should be writing sweet old lady poems and in fact some had grandmothers who are in jail, on drugs, dancing at parties with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in another. No need to worry about clichés with this group … as long as they felt free enough to tell the truth. Which took some prodding, too.
To get folks started, and to steer them away from cliché’s I offer the following prompts … give it a try:
- List three objects you think of when you think of your grandmother.
- List three things your grandmother always says.
- List the names of the songs, types of music and/or singers she likes to listen to.
- List your grandmother’s powers: (to heal, to interpret dreams, to scare your father …)
- List your grandmother’s skills … what can she do better than most people?
- List three things your grandmother can’t do … drive a car? shingle a roof? speak a foreign language?
- List three reasons she makes you angry.
- List three reasons why you love her. (If you’ve been honest and specific enough with the top questions you can afford a little sentimentality here.)
Now, make your list a poem. It is probably already almost there. But to make it complete you can add phrases like: I remember … or My grandmother is … to the beginning of each phrase.
Happy writing … and remember, the truth and a specific detail or two are the best weapons in the war against cliché!