So Cliché

My biggest critique of contemporary poetry is that many writers sacrifice clarity for originality, creating lines and sometimes whole poems that simply don’t make sense. This critique is usually countered by the argument, “Well, it’s a poem,” as if that’s a mic-drop observation worthy of explaining the mess of contrasting images and convoluted diction. I’m all for art that forces the audience to rise to the occasion rather than art that panders or speaks down to readers and viewers, but a well-used or re-imagined cliché accomplishes this better than phrases or language that alienate and confuse readers in an effort to appear original. And don’t misconstrue this with writing to specific readers because even those directed poems need to make sense to those readers or else they become art for art’s sake.

This is not to say that I want to write or support cliché poems, instead I mean that clichés can be used as effective techniques for creating a cultural or linguistic common ground for a poem’s speaker to share with the audience, providing a base of understanding. Including cliché’s can also be effective in debunking or re-examining certain norms, expectations, and stereotypes that are taken for granted in society. They are a literally tool that is often overlooked for fear that writing with clichés will turn off publishers and editors.

In thinking about the use of cliché in my work, “Eat Your Heart Out, Kid” sticks out as an example:

Eat Your Heart Out, Kid             

I want to die happy.

Hear that symphony of angels

my Driver’s-Ed teacher believes in.

I want to waltz my way through

those pearly gates, give Pete a high-five

or say some speakeasy password

because this is The Great Beyond, baby.


Scientists believe there’s a chemical

ensuring death happens this way.

These visions of heaven people see

and come back from and write books about

are hallucinations triggered by our brains

helping us accept our own passing,

making dying easier.


And why shouldn’t it be?

Living isn’t simple, so why not

let dying be smooth? Let’s ease our way out.

Sit back and relax. Who cares

if the trumpets aren’t really there?

We can hear them

striking up a familiar tune.

The final lines, “We can hear them / striking up a familiar tune” is full of noir influence, in fact much of the language and imagery of this poem plays on this noir cliché that is well embedded in the American conscious. I included these clichés to give a poem about death, a complex and difficult subject, a foothold for readers to enter into the poem and establish a relationship with the speaker. This trust between reader and speaker is important if the reader is going to follow the internal logic of the poem and accept the poem’s conclusion.

Poets shouldn’t be afraid of the cliché when they’re stuck on what to write. Poetry is a historied art form, full of amazing phrases and tropes that can always be refreshed and revisited in interesting ways by current poets and for current and future readers.


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Davidson (a.k.a “Hey, Steve!”)


A fun story about Penn and Davidson from our friend Tyler!

Originally posted on The Neurotic Song Architect:

By Tyler M. Bryant

My good friend, Fountain Penn, is a staple of the music scene for the town of Davidson, which, for all intents and purposes, is Davidson College. I’ve been watching him play at Summit Coffee for years now. His songwriting is infectious, and he is one of the coolest dudes I know (relax ladies, he’s engaged now and off the market).

He told me a story a couple years ago about a party he had at his house when he was younger. A Center on the Davidson Basketball team was living with his family for some strange reason (foreign exchange, maybe), and at the time, Steph Curry was on the team. My buddy saw Steph in his living room, and overheard some folks talking about him and how he was a basketball hot-shot (that pun was absolutely intended). Realizing that his opportunity to forge a…

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Title Fight

One of the most important features in my writing are titles. Titles not only set the tone artistically, but they act as a marketing tool to gain readers who might otherwise overlook a piece. Titles make a story or poem stick out in a lit mag’s table of contents or an anthology’s list. If a person is sifting through a book then a unique or catchy title is a good way to up the odds of getting read. As a reader, I know I’m guilty of flipping to the more interesting titles when looking through a collection in a book store or library, so I can’t expect anyone else to do otherwise.

Titles also act as sign posts directing the readers that writers want. Not every poem has to be for everybody, sometimes I want to write to specific audiences. I’m currently working on a poem entitled “Teacher’s Only” which is a pun on something in my classroom, but also a direct invitation to teachers and educators and a warning that the general reader might not get all the allusions I use or agree with my bias.

I consider titles so important that they’re often the last thing I write. I’ll usually have a poem drafted and then stumble into a title for it later. I saw “Teacher’s Only” written on cabinets that have materials the staff doesn’t want students to use alone. Those two words caught my eye one morning and stayed with me all day. After giving them a little thought, I realized it would be fun to re-apply them to the poem about my experiences as a Teaching Assistant and make the words sound like an inside joke or exclusive club.

Maybe because I enjoy writing children’s poetry I’m a little biased towards clever titles, because in that field I need to be zany and creative to really captivate a young reader’s attention and imagination. Plus, with children’s writing, I have to get a little silly, and not take myself too seriously. I don’t think anything else I write needs to be all that different, at least not when it comes to titles.


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The Women Behind “Selma”: My Grandmother & Helen of Troy


A great tune with a great story behind it!

Originally posted on Dane Page:

The Judgment of Paris, Peter Paul Rubens.

Driving down the monotonous roads of Eastern North Carolina lined by tobacco and cotton, I looked out the window from the backseat of my parent’s car and saw one of those green, distance-indicating signs that read “Selma 40”. I was going through a rough time in my life. My grandmother had just died, which was why we were in the car heading to Wilson, NC. This is where my grandparents raised my father and his sister, and was their home before retiring to Bath, NC (which has a very cool history that includes “curses” put on the town by evangelist George Whitefield to being a hide out for Blackbeard). The timing of her death was apposite, given that my Grandfather, or Granddaddy as I called him, died from Parkinson’s disease almost exactly a year before. My Grandparents were a glowing example of…

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Midnight Musings: Fifty Shades of Hemingway

I haven’t read or seen Fifty Shades of Grey, but from what I gather, with friends on both sides of the Fifty Shades fence, it doesn’t seem like anything I want to check out. However, this isn’t the first time that sexist themes and lack-luster writing have created wildly successful works of American literature. While there are sadly a plethora of examples that fit this category I give you most famously: Ernest Hemingway

"Mr. Grey will see you now."

“Mr. Grey will see you now.”

(Photo via The Bourbon Brain Trust)

Unlike E. L. James, I’ve read Hemingway. I enjoyed For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Sun Also Rises. I also think The Old Man and The Sea is a truly moving work. But will I re-read them? Probably not.

Most of Hemingway’s work isn’t technically superior to anyone else writing during his lifetime, in fact I’d venture to say it’s inferior, but that was probably a key to his success. He was trained as a journalist not a novelist and since people were readings newspapers every day for their news, his writing style appealed to what they knew and made his work easily digestible and therefore incredibly marketable. Much the same, Fifty Shades of Grey famously began as a work of fan-fiction that was transformed into a novel, keeping the same tone, grammar, and style that the original web-friendly manuscript contained. This gives James the advantage of writing to an audience that, generally speaking, spends a large amount of time reading and communicating on the internet.

Since way more accomplished authors and scholars have explored Hemingway’s work with various feminist critiques, I’ll suffice to say that Hemingway is unapologetically sexist in his work. And for a literary figure whose reputation is slated on writing truthfully, I consider this to be a great hypocrisy. Honesty requires investigation and a willingness to be wrong. I admire authors who are able to build depth in all their characters and who, when writing in unfamiliar territory, try and fail gracefully. Hemingway’s refusal to explore female characters is not only sexist, it’s lazy writing.

Once again, the American literary scene is faced with a commercially successful text that misrepresents sexuality and healthy relationships. And it doesn’t matter what other stories and novels successful writers recommend, or what points they try to make; what the public wants the public will get. Ellen Glasgow (a Pulitzer Prize winning author writing around the same time as Hemingway ) once wrote “Mediocrity would always win by force of numbers, but it would win only more mediocrity.” It has often been the role of writers to change public opinion and expose the reading world to truths they might otherwise not want to face. With so much great writing already existing and continually begin written about themes similar to Fifty Shades of Gray, it’s important to promote those pieces and never stop working on our themes and ideas.

I’m not suggesting that E. L. James is the next Ernest Hemingway nor that she strives to be. What I’m saying is that I don’t want literary history to repeat itself or replay the same themes over and over. I want to continue advancing the art of writing both technically and socially.


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Wyoming: A Love Poem


This was my first shot at a Sestina. I wrote it for a Valentine’s Day gift a year ago and I’m happy to see it up and published for anyone to read!

Originally posted on Eunoia Review:

“Oh please don’t go—we’ll eat you up—we love you so!”― Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are

I hear undeveloped property is being sold for cheap by the acre in Wyoming
in an effort to stimulate the economy now that the mining industry is gone.
So do you want to run away with me and leave all this behind?
We’ll buy a piece of land we can hardly afford and build ourselves a home
with a mortgage that’ll take decades to pay off. We’ve both already got debts
and student loans we won’t ever make good on, so fuck it, let’s add a little land.

We both have degrees that only mean we’re prepared to deal with landlords
and relative poverty in shitty New York City apartments. So why not Wyoming?
The only people we owe anything to is ourselves, and I’m tired of living in debt.
The American…

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Please Stop Fucking in My Bathroom

Originally posted on Eunoia Review:

In high school sex-ed classes,
teachers showed us diagrams about STDs,
bold-lined stick figures all linked together
illustrating the idea: “When you sleep with someone
you also sleep with everyone they’ve slept with.”
This was a North Carolina public school’s
attempt at scaring students into abstinence,
but there’s certainly a truth to it.

We carry little bits of past lovers with us.
Quirks they taught us to appreciate in ourselves—
like shoving covers off the bed while we sleep—
and insecurities we haven’t conquered since.
The stories they told no one else
that we’ve stored away. Only reading them by flashlight
under the blankets while our current lovers
wander lost dreaming of their own pasts.

Donald C. Welch III lives in Brooklyn, NY. His current project @SocialLit explores new forms of poetry and collaborative writing derived from Social Media. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Passages North,

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