Humor Non-Fiction posted March 16, 2011

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25 Words You Should Never Put In A Poem

The Bad Poetry Handbook Pt.1

by TKField

Everyone and his pet monkey writes poetry these days and almost all of it is bad. Very bad. I've read a ton of these dreadful poems, and in response, I've drawn up a list of twenty-five words that should be permanently exiled from your writing. In short, do not put them in your poems! They have been egregiously overused, flogged to within a centimeter of their lives in general, and are all-together too self-consciously "poetic" and pretentious for further public consumption. These words have been driven into the ground so far it's a wonder they haven't struck oil by now. Like a lime-green polyester pant-suit, a tattoo on your neck, or a painting by Thomas Kinkade, they instantly label the owner a repository of questionable judgment. In my opinion, the following terms should be immediately consigned to the slag-heap of poetic history, or wherever it is bad verse goes to die. So without further ado, the offending words are (in no particular order)....

1.Vermillion- Yes, things are often a shade of vermillion. How often? About a ver-million times. The list is endless; the sky, blood, a tomato, a firetruck, an ant, a child's wagon, a baboon's ass etc. This word is nothing but a shameless poser. The only things it rhymes with are cotillion and the enigmatic question "got Stilton?" Who in their right mind composes a poem about some idiotic cotillion or a storied English cheese? No one, that's who. Show vermillion the door. Then move to another part of town, leave no forwarding address, and get an unlisted phone number.

2. Azure- No, it's not blue, it's azuuuure. It literally rolls off the tongue. How very "poetic"....and lame! Just say blue. All things azure are strictly verboten. I'm always coming across some touchy-feely ode to nature with lines like, "There's no sure cure for the pure manure out on the misty morning moor neath the Arcadian sky azure". Actually, that's not too bad...but the Azure Fatwa still stands.

3. Cerulean- Yes, we're all real impressed. What a magnificent bon-vivant you are to say cerulean. Cerulean this and cerulean that, you even have a cerulean hat. Cerulean is azure's evil twin. A ten dollar word that's another overcomplicated description for blue and gives all other words the high-hat. Steer clear of this four syllable "blue-blood" in a plague-like manner. Nothing rhymes with cerulean.

4. Verdant- A close relative of cerulean and azure. An elitist, vaguely prosaic adjective that get's thrown around way too much. Nothing rhymes well with verdant, except maybe fervent or curved-vent, and who wants to read about a fervent, verdant, curved-vent? Tell this word you're going to take it to Disneyland, then drive to the country and pretend you're lost. When verdant gets out to ask directions....floor it!

5. O'er and its minions- O'er here, o'er there, o'er glade and thrush, o'er swampy boggy things and o'er purple mountain's blah, blah, blah. O'er just about everywhere and everything. Outside of droopy poems and "The Star Spangled Banner", no one says o'er. An oar is something used to paddle a boat, and that's it! O'er usually travels with its accomplice in crime, "neath". Neath is simply too affected and unnecessary. No poem with the word "neath" in it has been worth a damn since Welsh poet Seymour Butt's ten-thousand word epic, "Neath The Grandstands" in 1911. You may be good, but you're no Seymour Butts. Who is? In fact, it would probably be a good idea to never use any of those annoying apostrophe-marred contractions, such as wint'ry, wat'ry, sil'vry, e're etc. Just say wintery, watery, silvery and... I'm not sure what e're is supposed to stand for.

6. Thee/Thou etc.- These words are in violation of the "Shakespeare Rule", to wit; there's only one Shakespeare, and you're not him! Avoid thee, thou, and all other forms of Elizabethan vernacular, including doth, troth, forsooth, methinks, whilst, oft, verily, naught, knowest, bodkin and so on. The Shakespeare Rule also applies to sonnets. "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"...Please don't. Get your arse out of the sixteenth-century before I kick you in the codpiece.

7. Bliss- Rhymes with kiss and miss and piss. If you must, by all means, follow your bliss, find your bliss, get blissed-out, get blissed-off, lose your bliss, then get back together with your bliss and marry it. Then get in your bliss and drive it off a cliff. Odd, that this word should inspire the exact opposite reaction. Kiss your bliss goodbye.

8. Sublime- Bliss's bastard cousin. Yes, it's all sublime; the world, true-love, sunsets, mother-nature, toy-poodles, a well buttered muffin, your sainted Granny's old rocking chair. Find another word. Sublime is the pits of pseudo-lyrical phoniness. Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce Mr. Sublime Bliss. But is he sublimely blissful, or blissfully sublime? You decide. In the meantime, I'm telling you to severely limit, or better yet, eliminate bliss and sublime from your poems. Substitute ironic melancholy, undefined creative ennui, and the vexing ambiguities of the human condition trapped in a random, meaningless universe, at the mercy of cruel fate and an indifferent, absentee-landlord of a God. But remember to keep it upbeat.

9. Hue- Rhymes with blue, and you, and true, and due, and dew, and do, and ...well you get the idea. This word is too useful for it's own good, which explains its peculiar popularity. "Jose, can hue see, by the dawns hurley light?" Whenever I see this word, I turn an angry hue of bright vermillion. Seriously, I like Hue. We're old pals from way back. He used to drunk-dial me late at night and cry on my shoulder that he got no respect, and how being a non-specific noun was no bed of roses, and on and on. Actually, he was a bit of a pill, come to think of it.

10. Serenity- This term works its way into more poems than you can poke with a cattle-prod. I know it's practically a given these days that serenity is an unquestionably good thing, and a state of being to be desired above all others, but I take issue with that assumption (you're shocked, right?). What is serenity? A person zonked on Oxycontin is pretty damn serene. Ditto anyone in a coma. Serenity is an overrated, bogus concept, endlessly promoted by an army of twelve-step alcoholic/addicts, who imagine it to be some kind of cure-all. As if a Buddha-like calmness will solve all their emotional and addiction problems by bestowing a magical check on their behavior where none existed before. They tend to overlook the fact that it was their futile quest for a non-existent serenity that got them into trouble in the first place. Humans have evolved to survive in a hostile environment. We didn't become the dominant species on this planet because we had so much serenity. How did we do it? Here's a clue; our eyes are located in the front of our heads aiming forward, like any natural predator. We're not wired for a lot of prolonged serenity for good reason. I admit, I'm sick and tired of hearing about the supposed benefits of serenity propagated by the Ayatollahs from the People's Republic of Feelgoodistan. Serenity is a bore, and so are serene poems and poets.

11. Arcadian- Just too pretty and "Neo-Arthurian" for my tastes. Typically accompanied by some kitschy Pre-Raphaelite illustration of "Ophelia Drowned in a Stream" or some such soggy, chivalric hogwash. Not a major offender, but an offender nonetheless. The point is, it sounds pretty cool, but nobody knows what the heck it means. Quick, what's the definition of Arcadian.... See?

12. Ethereal- This word is so smart it has a master's-degree from Salisbury State. Poets think it will give their work intellectual and artistic heft, and make themselves seem clever and worldly if they play the "ethereal" card. This snobbish, fussy adjective drives me crazy (an admittedly short drive). I can't tell you how bad I hate this word. It's four syllables of other-worldly, high-minded, pseudo-intellectual, spaced-out, ubiquitous phraseology that must be stopped! This is a good example of an otherwise potentially interesting term that's been relegated to all time cliche status because of chronic overuse by shallow poets trying to sound deep. Rhymes with venereal.

13. Quiescent- The moonless night was quiet, not quiescent. This one is borderline. While not generally overused, perhaps once is too many. So use it sparingly, but keep it quiescent.

14. Nectar- Often used as a reference to "you know what". If you don't know what, trust me, you don't want to know. This word, and many similar groan-inducing euphemisms like it, regularly turn up in overheated, chick-centric, bodice-ripping erotic fantasies that, while sometimes mildly stimulating, are never decent whacking material, or even a practical substitute for Viagra. So what bloody good are they? These things typically involve someone who's given the author in question a rare tumble while engaged in the old, "Ring-a-Ding-Ding". A related sub-genre of this type I call "Emo Bummer Poems". Think of them as the poetic equivalent of a movie on the "Lifetime" channel. This category is dominated by women, and the poems are, with few exceptions, tortured laments concerning some guy who screwed them over in an especially heinous way. The perpetually suffering narrators of this tripe turn up the "poor-pitiful-me" dial to eleven and whine endlessly about how depressed they are, and of course, how they're still royally pissed-off at the no-goodnick dude(s) responsible for all their misery. Well I say, get off the cross sister, we need the wood! What we don't need are more "Chick-Vic" poems by professional martyrs, or another soft-core, window-fogging epic about how "off the hook" their latest earth-shaking orgasm was. Keep your bleeping sex life to yourself. I don't care how it went down, if the poem is a rockin, I won't bother knockin.

15. Ephemeral- This word sounds like an allergy drug of some kind (actually, there is a drug called Ephemrerol). In the immortal words of Patrick Henry "Give me Librium or give me Meth, but spare me ephemeral!". It's true we'll only be alive for a very short time and probably die a pitiful, anonymous death in a state facility, but calling the brief, temporary existence of anything, "ephemeral" gives death a lilting, lyrical, cosmic quality it wouldn't otherwise possess. It's almost romantic, as in a dream. Honestly, of all the words on this list, I think I dislike this one the least. However, it does get habitually over-used, so I've decided to put "ephemeral" on double secret probation for the time being.

16. Dulcet- Were the tones ...dulcet? Really? Sorry, but the term "dulcet tones" is super cliche. What the hell is a dulcet tone anyway? What the hell is a dulcet? I really don't give a flip, just don't serve me up any damn dulcet tones. There must be something else tones can be besides dulcet. I can't think of any right now, but therein lies the challenge. Find some!

17. Seraphim- Another word for an angel, or angels. These mythical heavenly beings always seem to pop up in horrible Christmas and religious poems. The Seraphim are forever coming to the rescue of us lowly mortals in our hour of need, or just flying about lending the Baby-Jesus moral support. You should eighty-six the Seraphim and toss the Cherubim out with them. On a semi-related note; no matter how good it may be, it's nearly impossible to write a non cliche-filled take on the literal reality of religion, the Bible, or the wish-fulfillment fantasies concerning the terrific blessings bestowed by God, Jesus, and the Seraphim. I fully realize this won't stop you. You're going to read this, then you're going to sit down at your computer and compose something about what a swell guy God was for creating everything, writing the Bible, and sending his boy down to be crucified on our behalf. And that poem will stink on ice.

18. Zeal- Makes me want to squeal. Like a pig. Like Ned Beatty in "Deliverance." It's that painful. Zeal is the trailer-trash neighbor of glee and bliss. The terminally cheerful like to do their road-to-hell paving good-deeds and proselytizing with lots of "Zeal". It always seems to show up in Hallmark Card level works of equivocating phony optimism. You know the ones I'm talking about. Poems where the glass is always half-full, where even natural disasters that kill thousands have an up-side. These poems may appear different, but they're all variations on a general theme embodied in the following brain-dead bromides: "No matter what completely hopeless situation you may find yourself in, don't despair, there's always hope. When the Lord closes a door, he opens up a little window. It's always darkest before the dawn. You'll never walk alone. Just direct your feet to the sunny side of the street. Look for the silver-lining. When bad, nasty things happen to us, it's really a character-test sent by a loving God, and a potentially transcendent, redemptive experience that will ultimately make us stronger, and even if we die, it's fine, because we'll go live with Jesus in an idealized Heaven forever." These types of poems (and they are legion), no matter how well-penned and technically efficient, amount to little more than feel-good pablum. Sure, people eat this crap at every meal, because they like having sunshine blown up their ass about how we shouldn't worry, and every little thing is gonna be alright. Interestingly, while zeal is an A-list no-no, I have no problem with zealous.

19. Dappled- Dapple this! Why do bad poets insist on writing about the "dappled" sunlight coming through the trees or wherever? I'll tell you why. Because they think it sounds like something that belongs in a poem. Nobody, but nobody talks about dappled anything outside of cringe-worthy missives about the sublime, blissful beauty of nature. In reality, it's a hopelessly overworked cliche. The sunlight through the trees is diffused. Say diffused, not dappled. In a semi-related digression, let me say a word or two about mushy, sentimental nature poems. They pretty much all blow. Listen, I like nature as much as the next guy; aside from being nice to look at, it's where they grow all the good weed. What's rarely mentioned is that nature can kill you, and is completely unconcerned with humanity's survival or convenience one way or the other. Nature would just as soon drop an avalanche on your head, send down a tornado with your name on it, swallow you up in an earthquake, drown you in a hurricane or blow you up with a volcano, as look at you. The natural world is not a "Bambi" movie or a ride at Six-Flags, it's a highly dangerous place and often lethal. Just ask the dinosaurs, they didn't commit mass suicide you know. Nature killed off the lot! It's time to give these sappy odes to Mama-Nature a looong rest. Besides, Keats, Shelly, Byron, Longfellow, Tennyson, Wordsworth, Whitman and Co. already produced barn-loads of poems about clouds, Grecian-urns, babbling-brooks, nightingales and verdant meadows of grass, during this genre's heyday back in the 18th and 19th centuries. They wrote all those poems so you wouldn't have to. I hope I don't need to tell you, that you'll never come anywhere close to carrying the collective jockstraps of that group, poetically speaking. So quit wasting your time trying to write like Jane Austin, Gabriel Rossetti, Elizabeth Barrett Brown-Nose, or anyone else in the "Dead Poets Society". Be yourself, and if you don't know who that is, it's high time you two met.

20. Glove/Love/Dove/Above Rule- If you rhyme love, glove, above and dove in any combination, you should be horsewhipped with a real horse. Sure they rhyme. dove, glove and above are the only rhymes that really work with love, ("shove" usually doesn't cut it). That's why Cole Porter used them in about two-thousand songs. I'll let it slide for Cole Porter. You however, are not Cole Porter, or even Porter Waggoner, so don't give me any of that love/glove/dove/above-crap.

21. Vituperative- A flashy, rhinestone wearing, Liberace of a word, that ironically, means bitter and abusive. But don't abuse it. Better yet, don't use it. Five syllables of instant head scratching obscurity. I once put vituperative in a poem, and the thing broke it's bonds, lept off the slab, knocked me down and lit out for parts unknown. I had to organize an angry mob of torch-wielding villagers to track it down and bring it to heal. Next week: "Bride of Vituperative".

22. Effulgent- Okay, so it's a self-indulgent way to say "shining brightly", but the word itself sounds like the brown stuff that comes up when you clear your throat, and you certainly don't want to conjure up images of that gunk in your magnum-opus about the blissful joys of the harvest moon or today's rapture-inspiring sunset. Or do you?

23. Daffodils- Of all the flora and fauna that gets abused in kitschy, sentimental nature poems (and it gets abused a lot), the cursed daffodil is far and away the number one most compulsively keel-hauled and put through the literary mangle. I guess it's those three syllables that suck us in. Say it with me. Da-Foe-Dil... Dafo-Dil....Da-Fodil..D A F F O D I L. Kinda gets under your skin, doesn't it? Like a terrible song you can't get out of your head. Or maybe it's the sickeningly gaudy urine-yellow color and exaggerated appearance that gives the daffodil its unfortunate appeal. Whatever the cause, this beelzebulb crops up time and time again in bad poems, and always conjures images of cartoon flowers singing a merry tune and grasshoppers playing little tulip trombones etc. So, steer clear of the daffodils, and while your at it, avoid crocus, dandelions, daisies, morning-glories, buttercups, roses and chrysanthemums. If you really want to miss a fast train to cliche-junction, don't write anything about how super-amazing flowers are to look at, to smell, what their favorite music is, or anything concerning their inner feelings.

24. Glee- The red-headed stepchild of bliss, sublime, and zeal. Often seen running around with its pants on fire. Do not put "glee" in your poems. Keep it chained in the attic, like Edward Rochester did to his looney-tunes first wife in "Jane Eyre". You'd be surprised how often this insipid word rears its gleeful little head, even before that stupid show was big. In terrible poems, people, plants, animals and things, react with glee. Babies and flowers have glee coming out of their ears. As do fuzzy kittens, butterflies, Unicorns, rainbows, and sunny-days. Glee is an uber-cutesy term that tempts use, due to a high rhyme-ability factor (me, see, sea, gee, bee, plea, knee). My main objection to glee, apart from pathological overuse, is its role in an annoying trend in bad poetry. I speak of the habit of imbuing objects, animals and especially plant life, with human emotions. Don't tell me that the damned daffodils "gathered up the effulgent sun's dappled rays of dawn with glee". That puffery went out with "The Wind In The Willows". Ever heard the term anthropomorphic? Google it.

We now come to the most commonly abused and overused word in all poetry. Which is.... wait for it......drum-roll please....

25. Gossamer!- The Kryptonite of words and the all-time heavyweight world champion offender. Gossamer. This word is like heroin or chocolate. People use it once, then it becomes a habit and then an addiction. I don't care how delicately translucent the wings of dragonflies or birds are, don't tell me they're freaking gossamer! I already know all about the gossamer wings because ten thousand other poems beat you to the punch. Same goes for lace curtains, chiffon, clouds, fog, misty morning dew, spiderwebs and your dreams. If played-out cliches were a crime, this word would be doing a life sentence with no possibility of parole. Toss-amer gossamer into the dumpster. I can't stress it strongly enough. Never use this word...EVER! If you do, you should be fed into a wood-chipper feet first so you can enjoy the view of your gossamer entrails as they fly through the azure/cerulean sky.

One last thing before I leave you in peace. Avoid any and all references to your "Muse". Look, you're not Homer, or Sophocles, or Virgil or even Rod flipping McKuen. The relationship you have with whatever it is you use for inspiration should be between you and it, and ergo, strictly part of your private life. I don't want or need to see the sausage being made, only the final product. You and your Muse go get a room, and do everyone else a favor and leave us the Hell out of it.

Now go get your freak on poets and write me a masterpiece!


I realize these guidelines are highly subjective, opinionated, and probably even offensive. I'm sure some of these are your favorite words. Well, of course they are, that's why they get used over and over. That's my point. This basically boils down to my personal pet peeves. They are meant to be helpful suggestions rather than unbreakable, hard and fast rules. While I am totally serious about all of this, I have also tried to entertain and amuse. Because if there's one rule that really is hard and fast, it's this: Don't bore the reader. I hope I haven't. Please feel free to add your own list of words and cliches that you can no longer tolerate at any price. I know I'm just scratching the surface here.
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