Saturday, January 12, 2008

hackneyed language & cliches

Another poet in Premonitions: the Kaya anthology of new Asian North American poetry, this one familiar and a favorite, John Yau.

He uses a technique in “Angel Atrapado XX” that I like. It’s a way to make tired old phrases work for you, revivify them. Take a cliché like … oh … Kill two birds with one stone. (I just heard it on an episode of the TV show Rome; I turned to Kent and said, “Caesar coined that phrase, first time it was ever said. So it wasn’t a cliché yet.”) So you have Kill two birds with one stone, right? What you do is you feed the reader enough of it that they think they know what to expect, then you give it a little twist: One lady watching the chef whispers, “All that stuffing! He’s gonna fill two birds with one stone!” (Stone, the weight measure, right?)

When the words start coming the reader thinks all necessary work on understanding was done years past and the phrase can slip effortlessly into that slot in the brain shaped for it, but then what was supposed to fit doesn’t quite and the brain wakes up a little. The piece has got some puzzle to it after all.

A couple lines from Yau (in no particular order):

This tongue is a flower. Someday you will hear what it has to pay.

… at tall costs.

… the clouds are free for the baking.

I hear this spoken at the edge of repair.

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