Hungry, Hungry Hearts and Souls

Paul Revere and the Raiders made a hit of being “Hungry” in 1966 (I think this sloppy version is from their 1968 daytime show).

This is the third in my continuing series on entering writing contests (“continuing” as opposed to every Monday—I’ve missed the Monday both weeks).

Last winter while I was judging poetry, I started tweeting my “thoughts” randomly as I combed through the poems. (If you’d like to follow me [@nbreen] on Twitter, click here.) One such example:

Thoughts as I judge poetry No. 30: Poets’ souls are always hungry. Some are starving. Who will save them?!?

What inspired that tweet was coming across another poetry entry in which the poet described being hungry for someone or something. Or maybe he said his soul was hungry. Or her heart hungered for such-and-such.

The point is, “hunger” is an overused term in poetry, plus it’s a tad dated and melodramatic. It’s what I call “shorthand,” terms poets use over and over because they’re commonly understood to mean certain things to most readers. This saves the poet (or any kind of writer) the effort of coming up with fresh language for a feeling or action.

“I hunger for the sound of his voice.” “I read to feed my hunger for wisdom.” “Hungering for your touch, I reach out for you…” “My hunger for justice drives me on.” All of these are paraphrases of lines I’ve seen multiple times in various forms in poetry entries. Once you’ve come across “hunger” or “starving” every few poems out of hundreds, it’s hard not to come to the sarcastic conclusion that most poets need to be fed one thing or another.

I’m not saying you should never use these terms in your writing. I’m pointing out enough writers use them that a judge or editor will weary of them as she reviews a stack of submissions. The fewer times you can make the judge/editor think “same old, same old,” the more you improve your chances of making it to the next round for consideration.

Check your writing for instances of a hungry narrator or a character starving for something. Try revising that example to something fresher, or at least less timeworn. If nothing else, say simply, “he wanted to see her” instead of “he hungered for the sight of her.” Simpler is better—unless you’re depending on shorthand terms to get your message across.

Nudge: Think of something or someone you desire. Write about it using a form of “hunger” or “starve.” Then rewrite it in a fresh, creative way.

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