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Forbidden Words In Poetry

by Silvia Hartmann

Forbidden Words In Poetry

Way back in the day, 1996, when the Internet was young, I joined a poetry forum. With my welcome message from the moderator, I was directed to a list of words which one must never use in a poem.

Oh really ... ;->

Forbidden words in poetry ...?

And here was I thinking that as the poet, I get to be in charge of the words. All the words. Those that have been as well as those still to come; they're mine and I place them with the same care a mosaic artist would tap a little piece of blue or gold pottery into the soft clay ...

So obviously, I took the list of forbidden words in poetry, and wrote a poem which contained them all. I sent it to the poetry list, then resigned from it and I've stayed well clear of such congregations ever since.

Call me arrogant, or call me an author and a writer, either way, here's the list of words you're not allowed to use in proper poetry, followed by a proper poem by a proper poet, using all the words you're not supposed to use.

The List Of Forbidden Words In Poems & Poetry

heart, soul, mortality, immortality, hope, dream, morn, beautiful, hallowed, awaken, lament, wholly, anguish, dwell, futile, void, abyss, ablaze, cherish, longing, yearning, upon, sin, heaven, glory, nice, just, and, got.


The Poem: Forbidden Words

Once upon a time,

I had a heart.

It was red and swollen like the ripest berry

beating fast and hard like horse's piston legs

and I would wear it proudly as an ornament

securely fastened on my chest.


I seem to remember,

although the memories are dim,

that there was something else as well -

an ember, buried under many shades

of grey and dusty coal,

a tiny ember, tiny spark,

you'd have to know it's there,

you'd have to dig so gently,

look real close,

and you would feel it

with your fingertips.


What did they call it?

A sigh? A sound?

A seal? Just wait a moment,

yes, a soul.


It's meant to be immortal, did you know?

It's meant to be in everyone

and everyone who bounces round

like atoms in a heated cup,

colliding here and there,

a chaos really,

every mortal has a soul, they say,

what can I know?


What can I tell you?


May they be like flowers of the morn,

those shiny souls, polished,

hallowed, fresh and sparkling fresh awakened

but the time, you know, it piles upon them

garbage upon garbage,

piles it high.


Oh we lament this process,

wholly anguished,

dwelling in the futile void

and yet behind our backs we scrape

and scratch within our hovels,

for more garbabe to be piled

upon the glow of any soul

we still perceive,

and should we spy a one

ablaze in heaven's glory

still we rush upon it,

crush upon it, howling,

we who are of sin

will cast the stones, will cast them now

and build the tomb so high

and we will cherish you

when you become

as we have been for ever.


Be as dull and stone silent,

dark as we all are.


You know you have been longing

for so long to join us here,

you have been lonely, have you not,

and always felt as though

there's something wrong with you,

well here's the time now

to forget your yearning,

let us extinguish you,

let us extinguish hopes and dreams

and God and Christ and after life,

and when we'er done, you can be one of us,

won't that be nice?


And you can bend your knee

and bow your head in gratitude,

and know that we did right.

SFX 1996

Forbidden Words Poetry Exercise

Write your own poem, making sure to include all the words you're not allowed to use in poetry. Not necessarily in sequence, but they should all be in there.


Poets Own The Words.

  by Silvia Hartmann
"What do we do when we get stuck? When we have no answers? When there is nowhere else to turn? We do Project Sanctuary. Of course. What else?" Silvia Hartmann

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