Words Matter in Art & Life

You must let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29

Most folks know by now that I’ve become increasingly immersed in my writing craft, creating poetry and fiction books.  I’m a member of the Poetry Society of Texas, the Pennsylvania Poetry Society, and Catoctin Voices, a local poetry group for which I have twice served as featured poet.  As Tumbleweed, I do manage to tumble around to various literary events.  Recently, I was confronted with a shocking reality.  I attended poetry readings at a Gettysburg-based poetry group.  These events generally consist of an hour of “open mic” whereby local poets may read their creations, and this is followed by a featured guest poet.  The featured poet is usually a published poet, is often a college professor, and likely has received awards for their poetry.  (My cousin Mary Maud Dunn Wright [pseud. Lilith Lorraine] was a much-awarded poet and novelist.)

Back to the event.  There were about 20 open mic participants, many of them local college students.  There was some really good word art delivered, and there was some arguably very bad material.  In my experience, what is good to one person may not be so good to another and that’s to be expected.  My concern, however, is with the trend toward ever more frequent use of truly vile language.   The student poetry in particular was liberally laced with expletives.  I was shocked.

My English teachers taught me that folks tended to resort to vile language, when they lacked language skills.  As an English major back at University of Maryland, I recall two semesters of Shakespeare as taught by a professor whose doctoral thesis was on the Bard’s use of sexual imagery.  They were fascinating courses, and I expect that in Shakespeare’s time the material was considered quite racy.  However, the audiences had a pretty good idea of what to expect.  There were no surprises.

I did leave the poetry event early, because I simply couldn’t tolerate the language used by the featured English professor poet and her student acolytes.  Pity, as there were some worthy poetic subjects shattered on the rocks of ill-chosen verbiage.

I don’t consider myself a prude, but I wouldn’t dream of inserting expletives in my own poetry.  In Proverbs 16:23, we are advised “The hearts of wise people guide their mouths.  Their words make people want to learn more.”  Surely, our poetry should reflect that advice.

I don’t believe in censorship on the one hand, but I believe the choice of receiving offensive material should rest with the receivers.  There were certainly guests in the room that Friday evening who were shocked by the language (their discomfort was obvious).  In fact, shock was likely the poet’s goal.  But few in our culture today are likely to take such abominable purveyors of poetic license to task.  It’s a sad commentary indeed that the morality of our culture should be so low.  After all, Ephesians 3:7 tells us that there’s a time to keep silent and a time to speak.  I suggest it’s time to speak against the corruption of our morals and of our language.

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