Should Poets Use Swear Words In Their Poetry?

In June 2017, I wrote a post entitled “Its My Blog and I’ll Swear If I Like”, In that article I argued that everyone has a right to run their blogs as they wish, including utilising swear words in posts. I also stated that swearing has a place in literature, for instance a gangster novel in which none of the characters swear would be wholly unbelievable.

I am, as pointed out in the above piece, no plaster saint myself and will on occasions swear in my personal life. However this is a rarity and when I swear it is, almost always under my breath and its not something of which I am proud.

I was reminded of my 2017 post by this article on the blog of the poet Giles L. Turnbull,, in which he discusses the use of swearing in poetry. The article makes for interesting reading but utilises several four letter words, consequently anyone who would find this offensive may wish to avoid clicking on the above link.

As Giles points out, Shakespeare and Larkin (amongst others) employ swear words, for example Larkin’s “This Be The Verse” is famous (infamous)? For beginning with “They f . . k you up your mum and dad, they may not mean to, but they do”, and (in the case of Philip Larkin) the use of the “f” word is wholly justified (there would not be a meaningful poem where he to have written “they mess you up your mum and dad”. However I remain of the view that the sprinkling of poetry (or any other writing) with expletives for no reason other than shock value serves no useful purpose and I personally find such utilisation offensive.


13 thoughts on “Should Poets Use Swear Words In Their Poetry?

  1. Lucy Brazier

    This is an excellent post, Kevin. I agree that swearing for swearing’s sake is not only offensive, but lazy and quickly becomes dull. As part of dialogue it is, as you say, often a requirement if the author wishes to maintain any degree of realism and when used effectively can be powerful in both poetry and prose. No words should be off limits to a writer, but how they are used is very important. Many people feel the same about adverbs!

    1. drewdog2060drewdog2060 Post author

      Many thanks for your comments, Lucy. As you say, “No words should be off limits to a writer, but how they are used is very important”. I also agree with you that the use of swearing (for the sake of it) is lazy or comes across as such. All the best – Kevin

  2. gilesturnbull2017

    I rarely swear in my poems. I read one last night that does use one, though when I read it to the Friendship Club at the local Methodist Church back in April, I substituted “His,” in place of “The b*” … it really needs the swear word though since the character is talking about the man who his wife left him for! 🙂

    1. drewdog2060drewdog2060 Post author

      Many thanks for your comments, Giles and for writing the post to which I link above. Yes, I see from your post that you rarely use swearing in your poems. I agree with you that, sometimes a poem (or other writing” would lack authenticity where it not to utilise an expletive or a series of expletives but swearing for the sake of it is not something I approve of. All the best – Kevin

  3. Victoria Zigler (@VictoriaZigler)

    Like you, I’m not a big fan of the use of curse words in general, though won’t pretend to be a saint, and will admit to sometimes employing a few myself, in particular during times when I do something that’s rather painful. A particular time comes to mind where I employed quite the string of curse words, and Kelly – who, at that point, had never heard me utter a single curse word before – stared at me in stunned silence for a few moments, before announcing, “My God woman, you could make a sailor blush with that mouth.”

    When it comes to swear words in writing, I’d actually rather they didn’t appear at all, but can accept their use if it’s for good reason, such as in your gangster character example, or during… Erm… Certain scenes of adult books, if you know what I mean. However, I don’t think they should be used without good reason, and think they should be used sparingly. I also think authors – be they poets or authors of stories of one length or another – should put a strong language warning where it can easily be seen – such as on your book’s blurb – if they use swear words in their writing.

    1. drewdog2060drewdog2060 Post author

      Many thanks for your comments, Tori. Your mention of Kelly’s reaction on that rare occasion when you did swear made me smile!

      I agree with you about adult books and about the need to flag adult content. I think this can be somewhat complicated when it comes to blogs. One can flag a blog as containing “erotic” content and WordPress encourage blogger’s to do so. However if a blog is not (for the most part) erotic but the blogger happens to write the odd erotic piece, I’m not sure that the website should be categorised as “adult” and/or “erotic” on that basis.

      All the best – Kevin

      1. Victoria Zigler (@VictoriaZigler)

        I meant books rather than blogs with the warning thing. Also, I didn’t mean they should be flagged as containing adult only content, but that it would be nice to know before you start reading that you’ll be confronted with a lot of swear words. Just a comment in the blurb that states “contains strong language” or something.

      2. drewdog2060drewdog2060 Post author

        Sorry, I understood that you meant books rather than blogs. It was me who mentioned blogs as (arguably) both books and blogs should contain warnings. I agree with you as regards blurb.


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