1. Felorin
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    Felorin New Member

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    Profanity in Poetry

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Felorin, Mar 18, 2010.

    Is it all right to throw in modern profanity in poetry? I wonder because I have encountered it more and more of late. An example, by an Irish poet, John Carney:

    These Broken Things

    These broken things,
    Well, howd’ye do.
    And up and down my memory, let’s have you dance
    With those sharp toes.
    So sharp.

    And then let us walk a while
    Down the circuit of a good beach.
    Maybe the best beach.
    Maybe the best place of all.

    And be blunt about it,
    No matter the twisted gurning faces.
    No matter the pale night’s glimmer at
    The back of every plan.

    There is no Christ, no big patsy with
    A wide grin, eating ****
    For us all our lives
    So we can die quiet.

    There is only the boring struggle of
    Day after day,
    Unleavened by miracles,
    Made bearable

    Only by love.
    By the love we give, and that which we receive.

    That blood we are given.
    That bread we break, every day.
     
  2. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    **** yeah, why wouldn't it be? Does a handyman go to work with only some of his tools? For most people, profanity is a part of daily life, and for a lot of us it's a part of damn near every sentence. Is this really something you had to ask?
     
  3. Felorin
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    Felorin New Member

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    Poetry is a pretty scary science for me, I have to admit. Sometime I wish they had rules!
     
  4. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Yes, it's alright, since it's the poet's personal preference whether he/she wants to use profanity or not. Personally, I see nothing poetic about profanity and would probably never include it in a poem.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Your question is incomplete. Is it ok to whom?

    You can write whatever you want, but you have to consider your audience. If your poem is meant to be included in a collection for children, or is to be pubished in a church periodical or a corporate publication, probably not.

    On the other hand, if you intend it for a metal rock magazine, or some other venue where 50% of the vocabulary rhymes with "truck", it may be practically required.

    Know your audience!
     
  6. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    Poetry??? Science? Rules??? Gaaaaah!!!
     
  7. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Cog has mentioned the answer that I call The O+ Answer. It serves in all cases.

    You have to know to whom you are targeting your work.

    There will be those who won't wish to read anything that is not rife with vulgar explicatives.

    There will be those who fall to the floor with the vapors at the mere mention of the word breast.

    And there is an endless sea of individuals in between.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I submit that poetry is defined by the applied constraints. It is a literary form in which words are crafted to describe some concept within some framework of constraints. For example, a poet may choose to constrain the lines to a metric pattern (with some leeway?) or to a syllable-counting formula. Or the poet may choose to utilize a rhyming pattern, or even a particular convention of metaphor (e.g relating climate or season to the human condition).

    Of course, there are those who push the notion of completely unstructured collections of words as poetry. But if they really believed that, any splatter of words against a wall of paper becomes a poem, just as a nosebleed sneeze against a canvas would be art. They rebel against imposed rules, but wish others to see a hidden structure and order to the words that they themselves would be hard-pressed to identify.

    So yes, there are rules to poetry. But as in many sophisticated games, identitifying the rules in play may me a major objective.

    Admittedly, this is somewhat off-topic. Food for thought, though?
     
  9. thecommabandit
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    thecommabandit Member

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    Whether an individual word is 'poetic' or not is irrelevant. Poems aren't just a parade of nice words. If you need to use profanity to cultivate a certain theme or emotion then you use it. All words have a use.
     
  10. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    Definitely gonna have to disagree there. If constraints serve the piece, they're used, if not, they're dispensed with. A poem is word-art; it can be a mile-long horizontal line with no punctuation. And any splatter of words across a page is most certainly a poem, if the artist says it is. Doesn't mean anyone has to like it.
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    And I can call the soiled toilet paper wad I wiped across my rectum art. Doesn't mean anyone else has to agree.

    It won't be framed and hung on the wall of any gallery I would care to visit.
     
  12. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    They'd be hard-pressed to demonstrate that it wasn't.

    Me neither. That wasn't the contention.
     
  13. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    When one is going for aesthetic quality, word choice is extremely relevant. All of the modern poets I like never use profanity (at least, I don't recall any of their poems containing profanity).

    IMO, using profanity shows laziness (and even amateurism) on the writer's part. There are other, more evocative choices of words and/or phrases that do a better job of conveying emotion. It's the poet's job to find such words/phrases.
     
  14. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's of course a totally legit opinion. A lot of people feel differently though, so there will always be an audience for artists who don't share that view.
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    no offense meant, but that opinion shows 'amateurism' on the poster's part... there are some written works wherein only so-called 'bad' words will convey the exact meaning and emotion the poet/writer needs to convey... and copping out with euphemisms is what would show their 'amateurism'... and lack of artistic guts...

    the key in poetry is to use them 'artfully' and only as needed, not just toss them in willy-nilly for the sake of cussin'... one of my own works ['dying words'], relating to our time here on earth, ends with 'out of luck? life's all over?' and its natural rhyme, the 'f-word'... for which i've substituted the standard 'code' of symbols, both for effect and out of respect for those readers who can't even bear to see the word... check it out:
    http://saysmom.com/maia/content.asp?Writing=195

    btw, i've been a professional writer and writing mentor/tutor/consultant for over 30 years... so, to brand all who use such words in their work as 'lazy' and 'amateur' just doesn't wash...
     
  16. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    Unless, of course, it's intentional.

    The most explicit poem that I have ever heard of is about a woman's sexual relationship with her priest. The author? Iseabal nic Cailean, the 14th-century wife or daughter of the first Earl of Argyll, chief of Clan Campbell. She was taught by the highest rank of poets, the filidh, possibly the most talented poets of the medieval era.

    I think that any word has a purpose, and the profane words are only profane to those who see them as such. The Anglo-Saxons who used them quite legitimately in polite conversation would certainly not have objected. As others have said, it depends on the audience, or perhaps the poet's own intentions.
     
  17. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I've read poems by Yeats, Auden, Heaney, etc. and don't remember ever coming across a swear word. They always find better ways to get their point across. Like I said before, I think there are much better ways to evoke emotion and get a point across.

    Another great example is Milosz. His earlier poetry is about the horrors of WWII and contains no swear words at all. Yet he still does a very, very good job of describing war and evoking emotion.
     
  18. thecommabandit
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    thecommabandit Member

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    I can tell from this that it's not just that you think profanity doesn't work. You clearly don't like it, either. I think that's colouring your opinion on the matter. But as an example, what if the emotion you wish to evoke is utter rage? Anger so intense that the person feeling it can't say anything but profanities? How would you convey that without them?

    There are different ways to look at war. I can guarantee you that a lot of the soldiers would have been swearing their mouths off. Poems about that that don't use profanity are likely of a slightly more disconnected, distant and panoramic variety, whereas a style which is closer to the soldier with regards to perspective and is more visceral would probably make use of profanity.

    It's all about what you're doing with the medium. A place for everything and everything in its place.
     
  19. Sabreur
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    Sabreur Contributing Member Contributor

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    You're looking at a narrow band of poetry then. Chuck Bukowski is an excellent poet, in my opinion. He is also more foul-mouthed than a drunken sailor, if you'll excuse the cliche. However, he uses profanity to further his art. I agree, oftentimes profanity seems immature and out of place. However, when used correctly it is just as poignant as any other set of words.
     
  20. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    Those aren't the only good poets in the world, and they're definitely not the only poets who have ever had their work published. Swearing and cheap insults are just words; it depends on how those words are used, and if they make sense, both consciously and in regards to the different ways that the reader may perceive their various connotations. The personal perceptions of the reader may come into it, but that's also to do with the poet's audience, and it's not really good justification for stating that any swear word in poetry means that the poet is an amateur.
     
  21. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I never said I didn't like profanity. I use profanity quite a bit, as do a lot of the people around me. But there are other ways to show intense emotions, especially in poetry.

    Using profanity is the easy way out. A poet needs to pay close attention to word choice and diction. Settling for profanity shows a lack of creativity IMO. For me, using a swear word doesn't have the same effect that a well thought out phrase has.

    I don't think Bukowski is anywhere as good as the poets I mentioned, but we'll have to agree to disagree.
     
  22. Sabreur
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    Sabreur Contributing Member Contributor

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    Bukowski may not be as CONVENTIONAL as the poets you mentioned. Convention has little to do with quality, however. Profanity is not an "easy" way out, either. They are simply words. Words carry meaning and when used appropriately, they convey this meaning through whatever medium the author feels fit to use.

    I would hazard a guess that profanity is harder to use well than "clean" language and for that reason I don't use it much in my writing. I am not at that level that I can use it and have it carry the necessary meaning. In fact, the appropriate use of profanity can in fact separate an excellent poet from a mediocre one.
     
  23. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    And that just proves the global dumbing down of humanity.

    As for the original question... sure it's okay. But not just for the sake of using profanity. If there is an imagery purpose, as in the example cited, then by all means. If you just want to pepper your poetry with a plum piece of 'potty mouth', then you'd better be damn good at your craft if you want to be able to carry it off.
     
  24. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's really something that I'd expect from myself ;)

    But 'swear words' are just Saxon words, mostly, that the Normans who conquered England didn't like. S*** is the Saxon word for excrement, for example. If anything, the fact that these words have such connotations is because of the dumbing down of one part of humanity, and it has seen became a bit more globalised. But that's irrelevant ;)
     
  25. thecommabandit
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    thecommabandit Member

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    You've just put two contradictory sentences right next to each other. Certain types of poems will call for a curse. If you don't use that curse, your word choice is poor. Not to mention the fact that easy does not mean inexpert. Simplicity is not an inherently bad quality.

    Don't be so cynical! Seriously, one person does something you consider stupid (and I can't even see what he supposedly did wrong) and you call the entire human race stupid? You need to learn some scientific method, man. One observation does not prove (nor in fact give you any evidence for) a hypothesis.
     

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