Sunday, June 7, 2009

Bad Language Offends

I went to an enjoyable poetry reading last Friday night. The guest reader, Patricia Irvine was excellent and the other poets all read well. It is exciting to see how much some of my poet friends are improving.

The venue was good, if a little cold (red wine helped with fixing that), the whole evening was well run and we were all intent on enjoying ourselves. The thing that has led to further discussion (on Facebook) though is mostly about one particular word. I don't think any of us would agree with banning any words, as long as they are used appropriately, but.. One of the thoughts that has been expressed is that we should be a little cautious about our words.

If the poem had been read in an appropriate place, we would never have hear the words, because in my opinion, the appropriate place for that particular poem was in a private place, with a private audience. Very private.

I've been thinking about the issue, and these are my words from the brief Facebook discussion:
But if you're using your words to create an effect, well, who are we, the audience, to lay (excuse the pun) any blame.
We don't have to like what we hear, but we all have the right up, to some unspoken point, to speak/read our poetry.

I know of one word that another poetry reading organiser has black-listed, and that is made reasonably clear to anyone who wants to know about it.

It's a tricky situation, and I feel good manners and discretion should be used in these situations. A reader should be aware of the audience and only read work that will not cause too much offense. Unless, I suppose, their wish is to cause offense.

Hmm, more thinking required on this one.


Anonymous said...

It seems like you and I both see bad language in poetry as a matter of context.

Whereas there is no problem with "bad" language being used for a purpose, it should not be used gratuitously for its own sake. To me, this is the same whether it is at a poetry reading or in a book.

Re: very private poems. It is a trend these days to hear and read poems that make one feel a bit awkward. It's strange to see a poet, who I have never before met, reveal things I probably only tell my closest friends. Poetry is a personal experience, but like bad language, it seems that there should be a certain etiquette to what is shared and what is not. Maybe that is audience-dependent, I'm not sure.

Carolyn Cordon said...

Thank you for your comment, I agree with you. the other night was uncomfortable for som eof the audience. I had heard this person before, and I knew she would be out to shock.

Sometimes we need to be uncomfortable. It got a few people thinking outside of their comfortable box. Not necessarily a bad thing. If there had been children present, I would be less OK with the language, but we were all adults that night.

Jonathan Shaw said...

Interesting question, Carolyn. At my book group the other night, someone read us a poem by Charles Bukowski which had a couple of words that would certainly offend in some contexts. He gave fair warning, and probably Bukowski's name was warning enough. Context matters, of course. I like your comment on FB about School Magazine. Not everyone has always been that discriminating.

I remember back in the early 70s at a Moratorium Poetry Reading one of the younger poets read a poem with a four letter word in it, not out to shock, but celebrating sexuality. Roland Robertson, Grand Old Jindyworobak, interrupted the reading, calling it filth. So it seems to be an enduring issue.

Anonymous said...

Can you provide a hint about the word we are talking about, particularly the one that has been blacklisted? It need only be the first letter and a few symbols...

There is one particular word that I don't really like hearing...over the years I have only heard it around three times in poetry - once by a male poet, and twice by female poets. As far as 'bad' language goes, it is probably the worst (or second worst) word I can think of.

There is another that annoys me in conversation but seems acceptable (in context) when used in poetry. Many a monologue might include this word as monologues emulate direct speech and many people speak this way.

One question might be: what makes language 'bad'?...and 'bad' according to whom?

It is good manners to tone down language when there are children in the audience...or a group of people who would obviously be offended. But it isn't always obvious who will take offence.


Anonymous said... Jonathan mentions..a warning is always a good idea.

Carolyn Cordon said...

Anonymous, thanks for your comments. I won't go further into which particular word I'm talking about, but let's just agree that language is a dangerous thing at times.
One has to be careful, context, who's listening, social niceties, all are important.
Sometimes the only eason for the offensive language is bad manners and ignorance.