I once met a journal editor who said he’d never publish a poem with the word “soul” in it. I thought it was extreme. Sure, it’s an overused word, but what if it was the right word for the poem?
I asked my poetic friend what was the reason for that decision. He said, “Because there are so many other words you can use.”
True. So true. Who could argue?
While pondering this solid truth I decided to come up with other overused words in poetry. Here’s my list of top 15 overused words in poetry (besides “soul”). Be sure to tell me yours.
Overused Words In Contemporary Poetry
- I – No. 1 on my list is perhaps the most overused word in the English language. “I” gets used so often that I think the rest of the alphabet is about ready to gang up on it. I hate the word with such a passion that I feel like gouging my eyes out when I see it. I-yi-yi-yi … (eyes roll) … lay off it already.
- Love – This sweet little four letter word gets used almost as often as the word that precedes it. Its only saving grace is that poets often find other uses for the word “I”. OK, we get it. You love what’s-his-name. Don’t send him your poem. Send him a love letter instead.
- Fuck – If poets can’t talk tenderly about love they’ll talk crassly about fucking, even when the word isn’t even used to describe intercourse. This is probably the most overused curse word in poetry. Most of the time it isn’t necessary. That’s why many poets vow to never use it. But I wouldn’t go that far.
- Sex – If there’s one thing the poets love it’s sex. And if they aren’t talking about making love or fucking then they’re conjuring up images of wild sex on a lily pad or something. You’d think poets have nothing better to do than have lots of sex. While that sounds extremely gratiating, how about a little more ingenuity?
- Moon – We got it. It’s nighttime. Now move on.
- Night/Nocturne – Speaking of night, why does every poet have to write a nocturne or an ode to the night sky? Can someone answer that, please? Why? Why?
- Hyacinth (or any flower really) – Why do poets like flowers? Are we really all a bunch of sissies?
- Heron - We understand you grew up near the sea, but do you really have to have a heron in your poems? Or a loon? Why not a penguin?
- Aubade – The only type of poem poets write more than nocturnes are aubades. Thanks Philip Larkin! You really fucked us good, man.
- Persephone, or any Greek god - Can’t you just let sleeping gods lie? I mean, they really have a lot to do these days, keeping up with the competition and all. Let the gods go already. They really don’t like being summoned by you mortals and your silly songs.
- Pale – We know your lover has pale cheeks. You told us that in the last poem. Unless you’re going to impale those cheeks with a moon-shaped hacksaw, we really don’t care.
- Heart – Jesus, how many hearts do you have? All you need is one. And you’ve broke it already.
- Angel – Good thing angels aren’t Greek gods. They’d be used more often. Seriously, your poem about loving Jesus isn’t going to be any better because you put a golden-winged angel in it. And, yes, seraphim are angels. It’s an overused word too.
- Cicada – I love nature poems. But why do they all have chirruping cicadas that lullaby the poet to sleep? Use a grasshopper or a horned toad. Something besides a frickin’ cicada.
- Dark – OK, you hate love poems. So you write “dark” poems instead. Why do you use the word dark? It doesn’t make the poem any darker. Put a light in it and the dark will be darker. Better yet, quit writing dark poems. They’re depressing.
Well, now that I’ve pissed off the entire pantheon of U.S. poets proud of their moonlighting accomplishments, we can move on to greater things, like extolling the virtues of flarf. But seriously, if you feel that I’ve missed a few, you can add your own. What other overused words do poets use? Come on now, bare your soul.