by Chad Prevost
Stage #1: Basic
The Cliché has no idea where to begin. He toots his own horn but to no applause. He cries but is viewed as “normal.” No, he wants to say. I weep for the womb. I long for home. Where have I come from? Who are these strange beings? “I’m Cynthia,” Cynthia says, stripping off his diaper. “Did baby go poo?” The Cliché weeps though he knows not what for: already he has no idea if this is a condition of nature or nurture, of spirit or flesh.
Stage #2: Safety
Although he has never seen his father, the Cliché is now a walking cliché at last. His mother works three jobs and to one of them barefoot in the snow past a Budweiser Processing Plant and through a nuclear fallout shelter—though all of this is merely a story he learns about in the past. In the present, Cynthia babbles on her cell phone and the Cliché romps around in the mall playground pleading, “Watch me! Watch me!”
Stage #3: Psychological
The Speed-Walking Cliché is always in a hurry. He has everything down to a science, though it’s art he’s after. The Next Great Thing—wears his hair long, styled with mussed bangs. Smokes pot before he whips out his ax and writes a song-a-day for a year straight. He’s built a huge fan base, has a long succession of girls parading to and from his bedroom. Only now, in his final year as a Philosophy Major, has he learned that nothing satisfies, just like The Rolling Stones knew all along. Her name is Cynthia, though this is purely narrative coincidence. Her eyes twinkle like the stars. They marry. He names her moles, compares the way they cluster to galactic constellations.
Stage #4: Peak Experiences
When the 10-year-long album project is bought by Geffen from Indie Scoots Records, the Cliché’s world is turned upside down. He releases his muse before thousands, tens of thousands. The album goes platinum. He no longer thinks of himself as a cliché. He has made it. No one is really original anyway, and besides all you need is love. He runs around with groupies, drinks a fifth of vodka a night, snorts enough coke to fill Peru, and begins a long hang-glide on the exhaust of his own life giving way beneath him. He lives for touring, barely sees Cynthia and the 2.3 kids they once wanted to have. He wonders what to do when your dreams come true but they’re not quite what you planned.
Stage #5: Self-Actualization
But in an unprecedented turn, the Cliché realizes he’s bottomed out, wants to turn it around, have his cake and eat it too. He gets it together in rehab. Professes with great sincerity in the 12 Steps. Cynthia forgives him, sees that it was really just the drugs talking—the other him was a disease, a cliché. This him—the real him—has grown from his experiences, does not judge. He empathizes with all who are burdened by a deep and hidden pain.
Chad is Editorial Director of C&R Press (www.crpress.org). He is the author of Snapshots of the Perishing World (WordTech/Cherry Grove), A Walking Cliché Coins a Phrase: Prose Poems, Letters and Microfictions (Plain View), and three chapbooks, Chasing the Gods and Chad Prevost’s Greatest Hits (Pudding House), and White-Feathered Bodies (Q Avenue Press). Two poems and an interview with Chad on the “state of poetry in America” will soon be posted on The Huffington Post. Over the past year, Chad’s work has been included in the recent anthologies, Bear Flag Republic: California Prose Poems and Poetics (Alcatraz Editions), Come Together: Poems of Peace and Protest (Bottom Dog), and City of the Big Shoulders (Iowa UP), as well as in the magazines American Poetry Journal, Hunger Mountain, The Seattle Review, Sentence, and The Southern Review. By now, one might think Chad was living the Dream. Far from it. Chad is often seen driving around town in an aging minivan, for instance. More about Chad (and how you can help) at: www.chadprevost.com.
This piece seems to extend cliche. Does it rejuvenate cliche? In general, does flash fiction or compression depend upon cliche? Manipulate cliche? My original ‘Cliche’ poem was written as a graduate student in 2001 when I was in a workshop at Georgia State and began feeling that everything I wrote was cliche. Not only that, but I was aware of how many other people just like me where “out there” trying to do the same “original” things which was to write something original when, in fact, there is “nothing new under the sun.” Something like that. Anyway, A Walking Cliche Coins a Phrase felt like a “second tier” sort of poem, but I was surprised by people’s reactions to it–and for the first time in my experience as a writer/poet, I saw the efficacy of humor. I remember it was first titled “15 stanza screenplay plot for A Walking Cliche Coins a Phrase” and I purposely loaded it with as many cliches as possible–every line. Later, when I realized it was actually only 14 stanzas anyway, I decided it was better as a prose poem/short short and made it simply a “Screenplay Plot.” So, it straddles several fences at once in terms of form. The “Cliche” poem also proved to be a “winner” at readings–especially readings with lots of students in the crowd–and it ended up being the title of my collection of short prose. Anyway, long story short, but I was teaching an advanced fiction class a couple years back, and I required my students to do an “immersion” in which they had to write a story with a “beginning, middle and end” in 25 minutes or less–and one of their options was to follow the life of a character according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I sometimes put myself through the same ringer as I require of my students when asking them to perform these exercises, and I found the Cliche had walked back into my life in the form of this brief narrative. Yes, he exudes Cliche. To the point that it becomes original? Leave that to the reader.