What’s the most overused word in literature? Is it “Love,” that ubiquitously versatile idol of poetic lore? Is it “Death” – be not proud; O, where is thy sting? Maybe it is “Moon,” that “harsh mistress,” the great harbinger of our marvelous idol, bringer and taker of the tides? Perhaps she is so overused because she endears us with many a scented “Night,” giving us unearned confidence to kill literary passion with cliche after poor old cliche. Or would you believe me if I told you the most overused word in literature, and particularly in poetry, is the simple little one-letter word “I.” Yes, I believe it is.
“I,” the one word that can send flocks of admirers to the nearest cliff, the simple little icon of self-importance, the one word that is so overused it makes verbs shutter with fear and indifference.
Novice poets seem to think that “I” is the savior of literature; in reality, it is its curse. One will often hear young poets claim, “But that is the way it happened,” as if the truth of an event is more important than the Truth behind the truth. Facts so often get in the way of literary truth telling and “I” is the biggest perpetrator of all. It is time to send that unholy demon of self to his drastic fate. The next time you are tempted to toss “I” into the ring of your poem, consider approaching your subject from another perspective. Give “I” a kick off the cliff and create a useful fiction instead. Rarely will “I” make a good poem better and even less should we expect it to save a bad one.