by Tracy Barrett
I grew up near New York City and went to college in New England. When the first real spring day arrives in either of those places, it really is intoxicating. A cliché, I know.
Then I went to graduate school in Northern California.
I was studying medieval literature of Italy and Southern France—the birthplace of many poetic clichés: the adored lady is placed on a pedestal, love is like a rose, etc. Old and tired as these clichés are now, they were fresh and new in the Middle Ages.
One of my professors, who came from Illinois, said that it was frustrating teaching this poetry in Northern California, because when a medieval poet says, “Love is the same as the feeling you get in your heart in the spring,” a lot of his students didn’t get it. The only difference between winter and spring was that there were a few more flowers than a month earlier. The lemon tree outside my window merely slowed down in its production and picked right up again as soon as the days started to lengthen.
The intoxication of spring meant nothing to many of my classmates, so that simile didn’t work for them. But to the poet, it might have been a brand-new idea.
When I do workshops with young writers, I challenge them to come up with new similes and metaphors, and what they come up with is so fresh and exciting that they sweep the dusty old ones away.
So that’s a challenge I’ve given myself. When I find myself talking about “a lump in my throat” or someone’s face looking “like a thundercloud,” I try to pull back and imagine a new way to say it.
What are some of your favorite cliché busters?