Please don't apologise: Swear!

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Swearing, profanity, expletive or just plain crude, does the risk of causing offence outweigh the literary effect a writer or performer can achieve by using a rude word?  Parental Warnings aside, should a poet govern their choice of language to accommodate those of a more moderate temperament, or is it the case that if you cannot handle a bit of publicly-placed profanity then you have no business paddling about in the poetry pool?

This August sees my debut spoken-word show at the Edinburgh Fringe, which is an hour of vaguely anti-establishment poetry for the post-modern Bohemian entitled Overpriced Zeitgeist.  The narrative of the show (such that it exists) loosely surrounds the things that annoy me in our 21st century society, things like corporate theft, a culture of control, The Sun newspaper and politicians, but the comparatively gentle opening piece is about, and was inspired by, the use of swearing in poetry.

When writing this poem not only did I muse about the general question concerning the use of naughty words in both written and performed poetry, but widened my wondering to include things like just what constitutes an offensive word, who decides, and more interestingly to me at least, if you support the idea of swearing in public through poetry just how inclined might you be to do so yourself when invited?  It may seem a somewhat perverse approach, but my own poem “Do a Swear” invites the audience to shout out their own expletive in response to what I hope is an amusing but clearly telegraphed set-up for the appropriate rhyme.  Or should that be inappropriate?

So far I have tried out this piece of work at various Open Mic and featured spots around the country and have noted the following:

  • In general, people seem to support the idea that swearing in poetry is, on some level, to be accepted whole-heartedly.
  • Many people are quite vociferous in this support when asked, and some will even offer their own immediate but unsolicited expletive, presumably to prove their stance.
  • Those that show this support are far, far less inclined to actually shout out a rude word when specifically invited so to do.
  • But there is always one, often more than one, who will.

It has to be said that largely due to geographical reasons the majority of my sojourns with this poem thus far have been to relatively genteel events, so I am hugely intrigued to see what happens in Edinburgh where both the size and composition of one’s audience is utterly impossible to predict.  I am hardly expecting to face a baying crowd (in general, postmodern Bohemians tend not to bay or take part in any other form of mob behaviour) but while at the Fringe I have also been booked to perform a number of ten-minute slots on mixed bills at late night comedy variety shows, which may offer a more diverse response to the call to obscenity.  I may even achieve the utopia of being sworn at, violently and as one, by a large theatre-full of complete strangers.

I shall report back after Edinburgh, and with a bit of luck I will engage you once again, although you may not give a, oh hang on, let me read that line again…

Write Out Loud Editor Mike Took’s 2018 show Overpriced Zeitgeist is at Bar Bados Room 4 on Cowgate, 7.30pm from August 4th-to 25th (not the 14th), entry is free and is supported by the PBH Free Fringe and Write Out Loud.  You can also help Mike reduce the spiralling costs of putting on an Edinburgh show by buying The Book of the Show. Picture:Sarah Methuen

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Dominic James

Fri 20th Jul 2018 17:03

MC, actually ye, Hamlet gets a little raw in places, I've seen school copies with lines scored out. talking country matters.

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M.C. Newberry

Thu 19th Jul 2018 16:57

I recall it being observed that the use of swear words indicated a lack of adequate vocabulary to make the intended point. Certainly, when I think of the delightful
rudeness employed so politely by the immortal W.S Gilbert
in his frequent verbal assaults on subjects he found worth
his mettle, that view might carry weight.
However, there are times when the well judged, carefully
considered use of swear words - single or plural - can have
a desired effect. The risk, especially in this age when
the f word has now crept into TV programmes as if it were
expected or encouraged, is that their the power will be lost
or, at least, greatly diminished.
To borrow that old adage: familiarity breeds contempt.
In closing, can anyone quote any from Shakespeare -
from an age when bawdiness was seemingly the norm in
everyday life?

Big Sal

Tue 17th Jul 2018 23:10

I prefer to use profanity when I write, as I feel it helps get the message across just a little more bluntly than if I try sugar-coating it and try to force it to come out more-than-savory for the sake of a few critics. However, I have recently completed work on a brand new poetry anthology, and I managed to write the entirety of it without the use of a single expletive or curse word. I tested myself to see if I could write an entire anthology targeted toward younger readers to get them interested in rhyming and reading again, and I believe that I have. This isn't your average rhyme of 'cat' and 'hat' though, so if some pretentious people that call themselves poets like to think that it is below them, then so be it. There's always going to be those that prefer no cursing and those that prefer everything to be laid out bare. You can't please everyone all the time, so don't waste your time trying.

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