Before anyone gets all up in arms about swearing or not swearing, know that I am not a nun when it comes to colorful language, but I also do not house a sailor’s tongue in my mouth–each with reason. I’d like to think I’m in a good place in regards to profanity in poetry: on the fence, smack dab in the middle of opinion. And since this is a strangely-heated topic in “social media writers’ circles”…I will keep this short and sweet.
I’m stating my conclusion, my sole point, at the start of this post: Expletives are unnecessary in poetry 99% of the time. But if you dare to swear in a poem in that 1% moment…it had better be placed perfectly and must serve a purpose other than to make you sound tough or edgy.
I think language is a wonderful thing. We have over one million words in the English language alone (my God, the possibilities!)…which is why I will never understand the reason why some modern poets restrict themselves to a writing style in which expletives appear in nearly every poem. It quite frankly doesn’t add up, commonsensically nor intellectually. Let’s take a look at a poem I found online from a “popular” social media writer (name omitted for privacy):
“some people have fucked
my quivering heart
until it shattered
and I’ve turned those
whores into poetry.”
And an excerpt from another piece by the same writer:
“…how much money do you require before you grab life by the balls and fuck your passion back into it?”
(I could go on with examples, but I’m limited in word count for this blog challenge. If you’d like to see more examples, please visit the Instagram hashtags #poetrycommunity, #writersofinstagram, and #poetsofinstagram…Yes, that is said with tongue-in-cheek.)
I’m sorry (but not sorry)–I can’t read the latter pieces without cringing or feeling the poet-gods roll over in their graves. The piece just feels clumsy and angry, like the girl at a party who got too drunk and is flailing wildly from person to person telling her problematic life story to anyone who will listen. The poor thing…it wants so badly to have your attention…to be a moving piece…but the only direction I’m moving is far, far away from it. Let me be clear: I like profanity when it is used in the right context. It’s like a good joke–it’s all about timing, and an ill-timed expletive is distasteful and awkward. Don’t be that guy. Apologies to the author of these pieces, I sincerely mean no personal offense. However, in such context, however passionate, I think that it doesn’t quite warrant the expletives. I believe that the point could have been made with more powerful and descriptive language and phrasing.
As a dear friend of mine told me: “A well-placed curse word can make all the difference; you [must] use it when it is unexpected for it to make an impact on the piece.” They’re right–using derogatory language in poetry gives readers the assumption that you are either too lazy or too ignorant to find a similar word that is just as powerful, if not more so. You can lose meaning, you can lose command of your reader’s attention, and worse–you can lose their respect for you. Tread carefully and wisely when utilizing curse words; they can either make or break your piece.
Remember–you have over one million words to work with for your poetry. However, in the moment where nothing else works–where no other word delivers the impact you absolutely need in that piece–by God, you use that expletive and you use it with gusto! Go with your gut. If you know there’s a better word than F*CK…well, get up off your @$$ and find it. Yet, I agree that every once in a while, it just feels right to lay it down thick in order to get your point across. It’s all about self-awareness. Just don’t lay it on too thick so that your readers are suffocating in it and can’t see past the vulgar nature of your overly-simplified language in order to simply enjoy the poem…which is the point, after all, isn’t it? Your reader should be able to read and comprehend without wincing at word choice, which interrupts the overall flow of the piece. And if you find yourself on the fence, unsure whether to insert an expletive in the poem…my advice is to just leave it out and find a more powerful way to express yourself. Again, I love me a well-placed curse word in a poem; rawr, it fires me up and brings the piece to life! But only if done with respect and understanding. It’s important to know the difference.
And with that, I leave you with one of the poems I have composed that includes an expletive. (Note: There was some initial confusion when I first published this article, so I wanted to clarify, since this piece may seem contradictory of this blog when used outside of context. Simply put, the following poem is a satire directed towards ‘social media writing’ as a whole. This is not a personal piece, so full of irony and poor writing, but one that pokes fun at the state of online poetry as seen so often today. It was inspired by a conversation I had with a friend of mine in regards to social media writing…much like this very blog post. Enjoy.)