Word Cloud: PROFANITY

Word Cloud Resized

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.

Breakthrough

I’ve had tangled feelings lately
About ev’rything
Bout writing poetry, and otha forms
Bout talkin and dreamin with abust-of-an-african-woman-by-charles-henri-joseph-cordier
Special man (who says he needs me)
Uh huh
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. 
             ostriches leopard-in-grass
             cheetahs 
             lions 
             leopards 
             honkies 
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 
witch cord 
that erases the stretch of 
thirty-three blocks 
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 
and scared 
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 
**communists** 
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” 
but 
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 mother-and-daughter-at-penn-station-ny-circa-1940s-by-ruth-orkin
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
too well.

we are
lonely women, who spend time waiting for
occasional flings
we live with fear.

we are lonely.
we are talented, dedicated, well read
BLACK, COMMITTED,

we are lonely,
we understand the world problems
Black women’s problems with Black men
but allcrodgers
we really understand is
lonely.

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…

yet
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
soft/hard/hard/soft
knowing that need must not show
will frighten away
knowing that we must
walk back-wards nonchalantly on our tip-toeness
into
happiness,
if only for stingy moments

we know too much
we learn to understand everything,
to make too much sense out
of the world,
of pain
of lonely…

we buy clothes, we take trips,
we wish, we pray, we meditate, we curse, we crave, we coo,
we caw,

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
lonely.

___________________________________________________________

Food for Thought

you understand how 
very often 
you are 
the one 
who creates the traps you fall into

the thing that destroys a person/a people 
is not the knowing 
but the knowing and not 
doing

strange 
how we women 
know 
when a man 
leaves us- 
even when 
he’s still 
with us…

when you need aten-the-sun-god-with-hands-at-the-end-of-his-rays
give

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 
God? 

___________________________________________________________

This is Carolyn Rodgers’ response to her critics:

The Last M.F.

they say,
that i should not use the word
muthafucka anymo
in my poetry or in any speech i give. 
they say,
that i must and can only say it to myself head-of-benin-iyoba-queen-mother-18th-century-rsz
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 …
i say,
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.
__________________________________________________________

VISUALS

  • 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

About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for the past 45 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband and a bewildered Border Collie.
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14 Responses to Word Cloud: PROFANITY

  1. Russell says:

    Interesting, very interesting. But if it’s good enough for Garrison it’s good enough for me.

  2. Ron Stokes says:

    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,
    Ron Stokes

    • wordcloud9 says:

      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 you you have either problem!

      Thanks for Disclaimer – clever and amusing

      • Ron Stokes says:

        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.
        Ron Stokes

        • wordcloud9 says:

          “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!

          • Ron Stokes says:

            …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.

  3. Malisha says:

    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?”

  4. 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.”

  5. 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.

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