Julian Matthews


1. Always use the three favourite astronomical bodies: the sun, the moon and the stars. But make it a glowing red sun, a pink moon rising, or sparkling stars. Or make the sun do something human, like smile, because suns always smile. Also slip in an asteroid, a comet, an eclipse, a nebula, and a supernova or two, they love those. Like so: you are my streaking comet across the sky, my supernova, the eclipse to my nebula, a pink moon rising in my constellation of sparkly, sparkling stars against the velvety night. See.

2. Clouds are especially popular too, make clouds grey or dark to signify sadness, grief and deep hurt. Make them so full like so many tears about to burst like a dam. Or conversely make them fluffy to suggest happiness like cotton balls, sheep and bunnies coz, you know, anything white is good and anything dark is sad (yeah, right). Insert a cloud whenever you run out of metaphors, but never put them in your coffee, that’s kinda overused and you know kinda vain, coz you’re so vain. And what rhymes with vain, but pain and rain.

3. Unto each poem some rain must fall. Let it rain cats and dogs — and farm animals, cows in a twister, twirling your emotions like a runaway turnstile, like high spin mode in a dryer. Mix metaphors. Use unusual similes. It drives them crazy like the eye of hurricane that a stroke of lighting poked out. All poets, after all are actually failed weathermen. So, any weather metaphors work. Example: Winter is coming, but eastern winds blow across our glacial hearts, swelling the heat between us, kindling southerly fires. Rhyme fires with desires and, boom, it’s sexy time.

4. Make sure you have a flower in your poem. Poets love flowers. Not roses, lilies and daffodils — those are too common. Use spanish bluebells, cherry blossom and forsythia — coz it’s hard to pronounce forsythia, forsythia, forsythia.

5. Any insect like bees, butterflies, ladybirds, dragonflies and cicadas — every poet loves ’em some cicadas. And always mention chrysalis, poets are obsessed with insects’ life cycles because it’s kinda like their own lives, being stuck in a cocoon, hoping to emerge as a butterfly, not a moth with a motley mulch of mouldy metaphors.

6. Rivers have to gush, burble or gurgle, or otherwise rivers always have to be tranquil, languid, or serene.  Use a river in your poem and let it flow. But never use “flow”. Rivers in poems never flow. That’s so amateur and dilutes your poem.

7. Anatomically, broken hearts, fractured bones and burning irises are popular. Also scabs, scars, stitches and coursing veins, because the blood in poets’ veins never flow, like rivers, they always course. That’s par for the course, of course. Oops, did I just use a golf cliché? That’s kinda lame. An obvious bogey in full glory.

8. Beach metaphors are trendy, even sandy: shores, waves, tides coming in and going out, and lighthouses, always lighthouses, like beacons of light guiding you to your next poem, when, actually, they’re icebergs, about to sink the Titanic.

9. Throw in some colour, if you want to cheer up the masses. Rainbows always work. And unicorns. But never rainbows coming out of unicorns. Urgh. Although you must have fabled creatures in your poems to appease the Greek mythology fans: dragons and mermaids and centaurs and Greek gods from Adonis to Zeus. Try Aphrodite, Icarus and Persephone. Coz Persephone, she’s no phoney.

10. Nature. Every location must be “nestled”, every destination must be “tucked away”,  nettles must always sting, birds in poems always sing, you may cage them or give them wings — but never make them flock, though, that’s too cliché. Make them like starlings “murmura-ting” in the dusky sky. And leaves on trees never rustle in the wind, they susurrate. Use murmuration and susurration in your poems and you get bonus points for such articulation.

11. Use words that have three or more syllables that will make you sound intelligent like ephemeral, obsidian, corpuscular, liminal, metronome, petrichor, succulent, luminescence, or better yet bioluminescence, to make it more sciency.

12. If you don’t have a list of poets yet who inspire you, mention Dickinson, Plath, Whitman, Rumi and Billy Collins, always mention Billy Collins, but not Charles Bukowski, never Bukowski. If you’re into instapoets mention Rupi Kaur, Lang Leav and Atticus. Then google their poems and rip their lines and rhymes. Go to Rhymezone and lift rhymes to your heart’s content. Coz anything heart-related is your content. 

13. Bonus: Death is a perennially popular topic. Try to write one death poem a week. You will kill it.

(Note: Guilty as charged. Used quite a few of these clichés in my poems.) 

Julian Matthews is a former journalist from Malaysia who stumbled onto poetry by accident five years ago. That happy accident has turned into a rabid compulsion. He is still extricating himself from the crash. Welcome to his recovery. If you wish to support his continued health, please paypal.me/poetjulian or contact him at linktr.ee/julianmatthews

Flights, Issue Five, June 2022