The ‘F’ Word

Every writer and poet comes to a certain point when he must decide whether or not it appropriate to use the ‘F’ word. Other words pale in comparison to this fearsome, un-say-able word. If we put that into our stories, what would our grandmothers think? Word Salad, unfortunately, uses the ‘F’ word 52 times… but only in dialogue, I promise. And it makes sense in the context, at least.

But the ‘F’ word is a monster we must all face. It is something people say, and sometimes… it happens.

This evening I attended a poetry open mike at a small cafe in downtown Augusta. Really nice place, great poets. Five people went before me, all of them impressed me beyond measure. Just the passion in their voices made me… nervous. Anxious. I hadn’t memorized any of my poems, because I’m lazy. I only have one poem consistently memorized. The rest I memorize a few minutes before reciting them, and then I just keep the paper with me. It’s assurance. Having a poem in my hand is like a safety blanket.

First of all, I love poetry readings. I get super interested in the readers. Open mics are a great opportunity to meet other poets and hear some really good work, but also… listening to other poets, you get inspired. Say, for example, I wasn’t too interested in poetry until after I saw this one guy kill it at a competition. Hence, I was introduced to slam poetry. It’s extreme and loud, and that’s what I like. Remember, I strive to be shocking. Well, tonight was like that. Every person who stood up and read knocked it out of the park which can be very intimidating. Very.

The first round went really well for me. I read a brand-new poem and a pretty old one, the first one I ever wrote seriously. I think my key selling point is volume. I’m willing to scream at a volume that scares people. But that’s the point. Have I got your attention, ladies and gentlemen?

After that, we watched a few more poets. My brother had tagged along because my parents were afraid that I’d be stabbed on the street. He was helpful, though; then again, he did make me pay for his latte- deluxe-what-chem-a-call-it. The second round began and something miraculous happened. One of the poets said the ‘F’ word. And after a tense moment of silence, it was accepted.

I don’t usually cuss in poetry- I think it’s not very professional. But I wrote one poem a while back that discusses the effects of cussing growing up. It’s called “Sacred Words”: about the words we learn growing up. And at the end, I shout F**K. Having said these words among friends, the speaker says it in front of his mum when he steps on a tack. That last exploding expletive left the cafe quiet, and I felt suddenly very cold inside.

You get these very worried feeling, an anxiety that begins at your fingertips and buzzes through your whole body. And then applause. Which in the poetry community comes in the form of snaps. Crackling lightning-snaps. Some people found it funny. Some inappropriate. The cafe owner told me she enjoyed the poem, so I suppose she didn’t mind the “F” word being screamed at high decibels inside her small establishment. For which I was grateful. Sometimes, you just don’t know what you’re doing.

So, sometimes writers cuss. My poem was all about cussing, though. It was about childhood encroaching upon adulthood. And the epitome of such an event is that first uttered ‘F’ word, either whispered or shouted (after stepping on a tack.) But people liked the poem, so I didn’t do the wrong thing. But it’s good to know your audience before letting an expletive like that slip. Or to banshee-scream it…

At least people will remember me. If they didn’t even enjoy my poetry, at least they’ll talk about the kid who yelled “F**K” in the middle of his poem.

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About Derek Berry

Derek Berry is a novelist and spoken word poet. Derek is the author of Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County (PRA Publishing, 2016). He co-founded and organizes The Unspoken Word, a literary non-profit based out of Charleston, SC, which provides an intendent home for the poetic arts through regular readings, workshops, and community fundraisers. He is on the Executive Board of the Charleston Poetry Festival, the inaugural production of which will be Fall 2017. His work has appeared in The Southern Tablet, Cattywampus, Charleston Currents, Illuminations, RiverSedge, and other journals.He has performed in venues across the United States and Germany. He has worked as a photographer’s assistant, busboy, and bookseller. He currently works at a curation facility for Cold War History.

Posted on June 9, 2011, in Controversy, Cool Posts, Poetry, Random, Writing. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Interesting. I’ve beening thinking a great deal about the infamous “F” bomb. My 25 year old son argues with me all the time about it’s place in out lexion. I am not yet convinced, but your post gave me “F” food for thought…

    I’m planning a post on a similar topic. Should be interesting, eh?

    • It was the first time I had ever read the poem in public, so it was interesting see how people reacted. Thanks for the feedback. It’s definitely an interesting thing to think about when writing. Where does the F-word belong?

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