by NONA BLYTH CLOUD
Please take this week’s title as a warning. If you find profanity offensive, this installment of Word Cloud is one you may want to skip.
An article I skimmed for this week’s post was called Poets Nobody Reads, which isn’t entirely true, but certainly Carolyn M. Rodgers (1940 – 2010) is no longer as well-known as she was at her controversial zenith, from the late 1960s to the end of the 1970s.
At a time when many male African-American writers were being praised for their use of ‘Black English,’ Carolyn Rodgers was being told to “tone down” the very language that had first brought her attention. And it seems that most of her poems that are laced with cuss words are not available online, while her books of poetry have become rare enough that prices have skyrocketed.
A few of her poems strike me as uneven, not because she uses black idioms, but because they read to me like second drafts, promising ideas not quite finished. However, the majority of her work passes Garrison Keillor’s test of a good poem: “Stickiness, memorability, is one sign of a good poem. You hear it and a day later some of it is still there in the brainpan.”
This is a young poem, about that frustrating and difficult process of self-discovery.
I’ve had tangled feelings lately
Bout writing poetry, and otha forms
Bout talkin and dreamin with a
Special man (who says he needs me)
And my mouth has been open
Most of the time but
I ain’t been saying nothin but
Thinking about ev’rything
And the partial pain has been
How do I put my self on paper
The way I want to be or am and be
Not like any one else in this
Black world but me
Knowing the Difference
Leave the sister and brother
with the yellow/gold
red/orange streak in their hair
yeah, leave them alone.
Traditions die slowly.
Cultural patterns are never quite erased.
We have always imitated animals.
I love this poem, for the deep and complex ties it reveals between mother and daughter, who are so different, and yet so much alike.
It Is Deep
(don’t never forget the bridge that you crossed over on)
Having tried to use the
that erases the stretch of
and tuning in the voice which
woodenly stated that the
talk box was “disconnected”
My mother, religiously girdled in
her god, slipped on some love, and
laid on my bell like a truck,
blew through my door warm wind from the south
concern making her gruff and tight-lipped
that her “baby” was starving.
she, having learned, that disconnection results from
non-payment of bill (s).
She did not
recognize the poster of the
grand le-roi (al) cat on the wall
had never even seen the books of
Black poems that I have written
thinks that I am under the influence of
when I talk about Black as anything
other than something ugly to kill it befo it grows
in any impression she would not be
considered “relevant” or “Black”
there she was, standing in my room
not loudly condemning that day and
not remembering that I grew hearing her
curse the factory where she “cut uh slave”
and the cheap j-boss wouldn’t allow a union,
not remembering that I heard the tears when
they told her a high school diploma was not enough,
and here now, not able to understand, what she had
been forced to deny, still–
she pushed into my kitchen so
she could open my refrigerator to see
what I had to eat, and pressed fifty
bills in my hand saying “pay the talk bill and buy
some food; you got folks who care about you . . .”
My mother, religious-negro, proud of
having waded through a storm, is very obviously,
a sturdy Black bridge that I
crossed over, on.
Poem for Some Black Women
i am lonely,
all the people i know
i know too well
there was comfort in that
at first but now
we know each others miseries
lonely women, who spend time waiting for
we live with fear.
we are lonely.
we are talented, dedicated, well read
we are lonely,
we understand the world problems
Black women’s problems with Black men
we really understand is
when we laugh,
we are so happy to laugh
we cry when we laugh
we are lonely.
we are busy people
always doing things
fearing getting trapped in rooms
loud with empty…
knowing the music of silence/hating it/hoarding it
loving it/treasuring it,
it often birthing our creativity
we are lonely
being soft and being hard
supporting our selves, earning our own bread
knowing that need must not show
will frighten away
knowing that we must
walk back-wards nonchalantly on our tip-toeness
if only for stingy moments
we know too much
we learn to understand everything,
to make too much sense out
of the world,
we buy clothes, we take trips,
we wish, we pray, we meditate, we curse, we crave, we coo,
we need ourselves sick, we need, we need
we lonely we grow tired of tears we grow tired of fear
we grow tired but must al-ways be soft and not too serious…
not too smart not too bitchy not too sapphire
not too dumb not too not too not too
a little less a little more
add here detract there
Food for Thought
you understand how
who creates the traps you fall into
the thing that destroys a person/a people
is not the knowing
but the knowing and not
how we women
when a man
when you need
it is not ugly to dream in life
but it is ugly to make life a dream
i wonder if
the sunrays are like the fingertips of
This is Carolyn Rodgers’ response to her critics:
The Last M.F.
that i should not use the word
in my poetry or in any speech i give.
that i must and can only say it to myself
as the new Black Womanhood suggests
a softer self
a more reserved speaking self. they say,
that respect is hard won by a woman
who throws a word like muthafucka around
and so they say because we love you
throw that word away, Black Woman …
that i only call muthafuckas, muthafuckas
so no one should be insulted.
and so i say
this is the last poem i will write calling
all manner of wites, card-carrying muthafuckas
and all manner of Blacks (negroes too) sweet
muthafuckas, crazy muthafuckas, lowdown muthafuckas
cool muthafuckas, mad and revolutionary muthafuckas,
But anyhow you all know just like I do (whether I say
it or not), there’s plenty of MEAN muthafuckas out
here trying to do the struggle in.
There are still men who regard words as their special province, and rank women as equally at fault for being either ‘too feminine’ or ‘too masculine’ but never as true writers. I think you can guess what Carolyn Rodgers would call them.
Carolyn Rogers grew up on Chicago’s South Side. She attended Roosevelt University and the University of Chicago, where she got her MA in English. Early in her career she was associated with the Black Arts Movement, attending writing workshops led by Gwendolyn Brooks and through the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC). Her collections of poetry include Paper Soul (1968); Songs of a Blackbird (1969), which won the Poet Laureate Award of the Society of Midland Authors; how I got ovah: New and Selected Poems (1975); The Heart as Ever Green: Poems (1978); and Morning Glory: Poems (1989). She died of cancer at the age of 69.
- Bust of an African Woman by Charles-Henri-Joseph Cordier
- Leopard in grass
- Mother and daughter at Penn Station NY circa 1940s by Ruth Orkin
- Carolyn M. Rodgers
- Egyptian sun god Aten, whose rays end in hands
- Head of Benin Iyoba (Queen Mother) 18th Century
Word Cloud photo by Larry Cloud
Interesting, very interesting. But if it’s good enough for Garrison it’s good enough for me.
My hero, in Austin you used to be able to watch the show on TV and listen on the stereo. It was perfect for stoners, so long as they know what time it is 👌.
I don’t know if this is the proper place but my poetry is filled with profanity. Not for profanity’s sake but to explain the world I’ve lived in. I’ve written many poems and my stuff begins with the one called: ‘DISCLAIMER”.
Before you peruse what’s within,
If cussin’ ain’t your cup-of-tea;
N’ if you’ve an aversion to drinkin’ n’ sin,
Please accept this apology from me.
Much of my work is X-Rated,
Four-letter words that are rough;
This disclaimer is here situated
To warn you of some of my STUFF.
I mix the real with the silly,
My subjects are ‘Over the Top’;
I grew up in the city of Philly
With thirty years on those streets as a cop.
That should explain from where i am coming,
My profanity does have a point;
What I’m trying to say is found in the summing
So don’t get your shorts out of joint.
Thanx and stay cool,
There’s aren’t really any bad words, just words that are either overused to the point of being worn out, or poorly chosen for what you wish to say – I don’t think you have either problem!
Thanks for Disclaimer – clever and amusing
Thanx for the response. Also a thank you for this entire discussion on profanity. I’ve attempted showing my stuff on a few occasions but I don’t think there a market for my type of poetry yet. I’m a rhymer (50’s Catholic school and the good sisters taught me a love of poetry) and much of my subject matter doesn’t seem to be in vogue today. My usual response to the use of profanity is it’s necessity in certain situations. Should I as a police officer come upon a burglar breaking into someone’s house at 3 AM, the phrase, “Please, Sir, cease and desist from thy present activity!” just doesn’t work. Words of fire have always turned the trick for me. Thanx again.
“Please, Sir, cease and desist from thy present activity!” – LOL – Actually, that might be so shocking to a perpetrator, it might make them freeze for 3 or 4 seconds as their brain struggles to comprehend it.
I try to be selective in my use of “profanity” in my writing because my intention is communication, and the more people I can reach, the better. But there are times when only a “swear word” will do!
…Y’know I never thought of that! You’re right! “You there, Knave! Woe betide thee if thou persists on thy villainous pursuit!” …I coulda used you as a partner.
When my kid was little, I used to refer to “taboo words” rather than “bad words.” I explained that if we used taboo words when we were either in a public setting or with people who became uncomfortable when they heard those words, we were being discourteous and that was not OK. If we used them with someone we knew did not mind hearing them, and they helped us say what we meant, that was OK but to be careful about getting into the habit because then we would slip up and use them in the wrong way or the wrong place. He got it. At times I would hear him mutter to the dog, while petting her, “You don’t mind damn and fuck and shit, do you Cuddles?”
Great job Malisha, what you’ve taught is basic manners, something so lacking in society today.
Thanks Malisha for a great parenting lesson
When I was an undergraduate, I found a book on profanity in the college library. Of course I checked it out!
One of the stories in that book has stuck with me for all these years.
There was a minister, a beloved pastor. Man of the cloth. He was known for his even temperament, and never seemed to become angry or upset. Naturally, swear words were not part of his vocabulary. In addition to tending his congregation, he was an avid golfer.
That is to say, he played the game, but not well at all. The number of balls he lost in the woods and water was the stuff of legends. Yet, he never seemed to get upset. Never used a naughty word or broke a putter over his knee. One of his good friends and golfing buddies could not stand it any longer. He had to know.
“Reverend, I have noticed over the years that when you hit a bad shot, you never cuss or get upset. What is your secret?”
“Brother, have you noticed that when I make a bad shot, I always spit?”
“Yes, Reverend, I have noticed that.”
“Grass never grows on that spot again.”
As founder and creator of the title of this blog, I would like to point out that the name has an acronym that is a dirty double entendre.
As for profanity, I’m from the Carlin School. “There are no bad words. Bad thoughts, bad intentions and wooooooords.” It can be used for a variety of reasons but it should be used with purpose. Carlin and his contemporary Richard Pryor were grand-masters in the use of profanity for the sake of humor. Some would cite Lenny Bruce, but he was a ground breaker in daring to use such language in public entertainment. Some might say Redd Foxx in the same breath. However, their mastery of its use was not nearly at the level of Carlin and Pryor. This trips up many a modern comic. Too many use it just to be vulgar and it has all the artistry of a sledgehammer. It is a seasoning in comedy, not a main course. Some get it, sure. Chris Rock and the late Mitch Hedberg come to mind. But in contrast, Ellen DeGeneres Jim Gaffigan and Brian Regan all “work clean” and are quite funny nonetheless. Humor relies up timing, punctured expectations and exaggeration. And to those “comics” who don’t get that?
I say fuck ’em.
I now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.