Dropping the F-bomb in a poem

I’ve been reading and hearing a lot of poetry lately. I had the incredible honor of hearing our new US Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera a couple of weeks ago, and I was stunned by his graceful yet commanding language. I got to thinking about the use of “Fuck” in poetry…something he did not do (at least in the selections he read to us, nor do I see it in the poems of the two books I bought.)

The f-bomb, as it’s affectionately known, has had its day in the sun as an explosive, shocking, meaningful word. Before the mid-sixties, it was unthinkable to use it in even semi-polite company. The Beat poets didn’t throw it around, it was the province of soldiers, sailors, and crass men. The sixties brought the anti-war revolution, the Fish performance at Woodstock (“Give me an F…!”) and the word made into the teenage currency. Far-fucking-out, you’re fucking kidding me, and Up against the wall, mother-fucker came next. (We had to add “mother” to retrieve its shock value.) Now, even nice women use it (I have no more fucks to give…)

We have new shockers now. White people politely say “N-word” to describe a racist appellation that in the sixties would just have been crass and rude, while Black people have reclaimed its power. “C-word” keeps its power in the US, though people in Britain males call each other cunts quite merrily, and here many women are trying to reclaim the word as well. And young people, who use “fuck” even at the dinner table, say “be-atch” for “bitch,” a word we used with impunity and still do.

I don’t play golf, though I know many people who do. This is not a total non-sequitur…The use of the f-bomb in golf is a lot like the use in poetry. It all goes to the ages and stages of man…and I use that word advisedly.

In golf, if a young man throws his club after a bad shot, it is an unacceptable display of temper, to be chastised and outgrown. If a man in his thirties or forties throws his club, it elicits, “Dude, you should get some counseling for that anger.” And if a man does it in his sixties, “Relax! You’re going to give yourself a coronary!”

So it goes in poetry. A young man throws an f-bomb or several in his poetry and we say he’s passionate. “Harness that anger and you might be a great poet one day.” At 40, we tell him, “There are millions of words in the English language. Can I get you a thesaurus?” But at 60, let me tell you, it’s just a shorter way of saying, “Get off my lawn!”

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