Now, we certainly don’t claim to have all the answers. But we’re happy to use our collective experience as award-winning poets and reviewers to answer your questions, or at least point you in the direction of getting your questions answered through another excellent resource.
One question that arose along the way of a previous Poet is In discussion had to do with taboo words in poetry. Some of you were surprised (incredulous?) to discover that as part of our acquisitions process for Every Day Poems, we keep a list of poetry taboo words, and we rarely acquire a poem that includes such words.
A few of these words include: breathless, achingly, and grace. There are more. But suffice it to say, the words tend to be overused or used in predictable ways. We don’t go for predictability in poetry.
When our young writer Sara Barkat heard about our acquisitions practice, she was inspired to try to create a taboo word poem that wouldn’t get the taboo word axe. Here it is.
Because there was less
than breath, we said
it’s true; —but Death
was tardy and sat on the bed
until we all just wished
It would get on with it already—
rumpling the covers,
smiling as only Death smiles—
and ranged around the sickbed,
breathless and afraid to speak
we eyed each other with
the unspoken awkwardness
of a meteor that had come late—
it just wasn’t right.
The doctors had their predictions,
the mourners were ready,
arrayed in black and less confused
as mourners always are,
practicing their anguished moans outside the door
while the pre-deceased sat with Death,
who twirled Its scythe aimlessly against the floor,
and chatted like old pals, with no thought to
One Poet’s Practice, Regarding Taboo Words
Like many writers I know, I keep a taboo list. Nothing too long or formal, this is simply a list of words I must not write—at least at first, when beginning a new piece. Often they are ones I have worn to pieces, like a favorite shirt or lucky underpants. Trees are there on my taboo list right now; as it happens, so is rain—just until I get some new work under my belt after Contingency Plans. It’s a way of pushing myself toward growth, toward deeper, more colorful, more dynamic writing.
—David K. Wheeler, from Taboo: Writing the Trees
Poetry Taboo Words Discussion and Prompt
1. Alright, the Poet is in. Ask us anything about poetry taboo words.
2. Are there any poetry taboo words you think should be added to our list?
3. Write a poem using one of the taboo words in this post (or one that’s offered in the comment box). What approaches can you potentially take to skirt the poetry editor axe?
Photo by Scott Robinson, Creative Commons, via Flickr.
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About One of Our Resident Poets
Tania Runyan has served as an editor for Every Day Poems and is the author of four books of poetry, including A Thousand Vessels and Simple Weight. Her poems have appeared in many publications, including Poetry, Atlanta Review, Nimrod, and Southern Poetry Review. She received an NEA Literature fellowship in 2011.
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