Skip to content

F*ck Expletives in Poetry

FDay 6 – “F” as in “F*ck Expletives in Poetry” (*gasp!*)

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.)

Writer's Block and Stars and Sh** (a poem)
Writer’s Block and Stars and Sh** by #RhetoricalRedhead


Published inStorytime & Blog


  1. I don’t like expletives much because they are typically abused merely trying to create some kind of effect of being edgy, tough, or funny. They tend to make me cringe especially when they are over-used. I’m in agreement with your opinion about using them in poetry. Personally I’d rather the expletives be avoided other than for limited use for the purpose of impact.

    Good to see you trying to catch up. Keep at it!

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

    • Rhetorical Redhead Rhetorical Redhead

      I’m honestly relieved to hear your opinion on this, Arlee. So many writers are too quick to defend profanity in literature these days. It saddens me because, like you say, they’re often trying too hard to sound edgy or tough, but ends up doing quite the opposite. It has been such a shock to see how many poets subject their readers to this kind of style that leaves their poetry wanting. (It is typically seen in the younger generations, but a few older ones sneak in as well.) There is an entire “community” of online social media writers/poets who fall into this category. It has become alarming to see how quantity has taken precedence over quality, so it’s comforting to know there are still writers out there who feel the same as I do on this subject. Good writing, especially good poetry, in my opinion, asks the writer to dig deeper than common language and to express an idea in a unique and meaningful way that is altogether original and intriguing. Any fool can toss expletives into print; it takes complete respect and understanding of the art form to produce a piece that pays tribute to this age-old profession. Thank you for your input and for reading. I always appreciate your feedback!

  2. JP JP

    My first mentor taught me a lot about this subject. I’ve never understood the way we as people let these words remain so forbidden as most of them are some of the most versatile words morphing constantly through subtleties of context, but in the end we came to the conclusion that a writer should use their own voice And if that voice just so happens to be in range of a sailors, so be it. It’s better than those who lose their voice in attempts at the emulation of what they believe a poet should sound like.

    • Rhetorical Redhead Rhetorical Redhead

      I see where you’re coming from, indeed, and I agree! I would never wish for anyone to emulate what they “think” they should sound like. However, not many writers actually explore enough to find their own voices, and default to the copycat method–which makes me incredibly sad to see. Most of the poetry I view in online social media settings are outright copy after copy of one another, if not outrightly plagiarized. In regards to profanity, I also agree with you–expletives are very versatile and can offer enhancement to a piece when no other word will do! Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough, and that’s my own error for trying to keep it relatively short…Point being, my argument lies in the fact that poets (young poets, inexperienced poets, internet poets, etc), I have found, are often using profanity as a default or as a cop-out, really, when searching for a powerful statement. The F-word begins to lose its power and influence when it is used too often. As a reader, I want it to be slipped in to surprise me! To shock me and make me really feel what the author is trying to convey…I don’t want it to become an expected appearance when I read poetry. Language is fun, and so much of it is left to be discovered and used in poetry. And in this post, I merely wish to challenge writers to really dig deep and stretch their tongues to produce something really original. “F” and “S” and “D” and “C” and “B” and all the other fun words are losing their zeal. I don’t think expletives necessarily equate to someone’s “voice”…just as much as someone’s extensive Cambridge vocabulary doesn’t equate to their voice, either. Anyone can use big words or curse words…it’s all about HOW you use them, in my opinion. That is what someone’s voice is contrived of. (I hope that makes sense, ha!) Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I really enjoy you furthering the conversation, and especially helping me to realize my error in not being very clear about a few of the points I was trying to make. It’s been a wonderful learning experience. 🙂

  3. To me, it sounded like the example you used of an expletive in your own work was meant to make your sentiment tough and edgy, which is pretty ironic. But what else can the word “fucking” achieve if it’s used as an adjective, really? Isn’t it possible your own subjective taste is the culprit here, and not the use of expletives?

    In essence, you’re saying something akin to a chef who extolls, “You should never put too much salt on the food!”

    But then he serves that one guy who finds his potatoes too bland.

    Fucking, in writing AND in life, is a lot like a spice that way.

    • Rhetorical Redhead Rhetorical Redhead

      Hi, Shane! Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment and further this lil’ discussion of mine. I saw Eddie encourage you to ask your questions here, and I’m glad you did. Mainly because–well–I have YOU to thank for making me realize that, in my haste to post a short blog for this A-to-Z blog challenge, I left a few points rather vague and without clarity. I take full responsibility for confusing any reader in that regard! What I’m finding is that people who have commented or discussed this article with me technically share my viewpoint, at least to an extent, so really we agree. As in, we’re arguing the same thing, but because of my muddled article the point is getting lost. I tweaked the article just a *little* in hopes to provide some minor clarification while not changing the overall blog. (I’ve learned my lesson, and I’ll just have to let this post be, and remember to be more specific in the future, so thank you for that.) All that to say–the poem at the conclusion of the post is actually a satire, poking fun at social media poetry as a whole. I would never, ever write something like that for my personal portfolio. It’s terrible, ha! So yes, lots of irony and tongue-in-cheek and dry humor, which I see not everyone picked up on, and that’s okay. Again, my apologies for that confusion. It really is a poorly-constructed poem, ha, and I know that. My theme for this A-to-Z blog challenge is Poetry, and with each post I have chosen to include a corresponding poem of mine that relates to the topic, at least somewhat. This was the only poem I could find in my archives where I dropped an expletive, so I just tossed it in (albeit a bit ignorant of the attention this blog would draw…if I had known, I would have taken more care of my arguments, but that’s part of the learning experience, I see!). So, that being said, I totally agree with your comments, which only makes me laugh at my own flub. You’re absolutely right! I like the spice you serve, my dear sir. Thank you, again, for engaging and making me see the error of my ways. Hopefully the article takes on a lighter, more ironic note now that I have explained myself a little more. I also went into detail in my comment response to “JP” on this comment thread. Maybe that will shed some more light on this as well. Cheers, and happy writing! Now go give Eddie a hard time for me. 😉 (P.S. I am sick and out of my mind as I respond to this, so I hope my stream of consciousness makes some sense to you. Thank you for being so gracious and for your wonderful constructive criticism!)

    • Rhetorical Redhead Rhetorical Redhead

      P.P.S. Your website is epic. If I ever need some assistance (or a good chuckle), I know who to go to. Much respect, Shane. 😉

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: