Yesterday I wrote about the confluence of kismet in poetry, exploring how interviews, letters, poems, poets and seemingly random turns of events are able to stop us, resonate, to say, yes, here, this.
But in my discussion so far, I have not mentioned how so much of this is in flux. How are those unexpected moments being enhanced or irrevocably altered due to our increased involvement with technology and the digital world?
There are countless observations about the losses we have experienced and are experiencing in our digital conversion. In talking about compiling Lucille Clifton’s Collected Poems, for example, Kevin Young discusses how Clifton’s journals, thick, heavy, weighed with ubiquitous notes and scraps of paper became thinner and thinner as Clifton relied more on the computer.* Undoubtedly there is much to consider here. E-mails do not have the same feel and temperament as letters; they are often lost, deleted or simply not saved, vanished in the ether. Gone will be entire swaths of understanding about the creative/writing process, about the influences between writers, specifics in terms of times and dates, etc. Granted, I am only scratching the surface here; the impacts of loss are only beginning to be understood.
But, despite this, consider the potential for technology. How is this leviathan of social media inspiring new work, setting up alternate ways of understanding, reading, experiencing art, that have not previously been part of our experience?
As an illustration: consider your first reading of The Waste Land. Now consider if your first exposure to that poem had been on an iPad, through The Waste Land app for iTunes, complete with links to Eliot’s handwritten notes, comments left by Pound, audio recordings, and links to explain references and allusions in the poem. How would this have caused you to experience the poem differently? How can we even begin to ponder the contrast?
But let’s back up a bit. What happens, is happening, when poetry begins to use or relies on references to technology? Entire poems (and often a series of poems or perhaps a full collection) can hinge on technological language, structure, reference, or suggestion. How does the mention of, say, an iPhone or an iPad alter or enhance our experience of the poem itself?
Take Terese Svoboda’s poem, “Neighborhood Watch” from the September 10, 2012 New Yorker.** The poem ends:…You hobble off,
your check withering for kisses. Take the iPad
with its easy interface. Our face, you say,
staring at its black. Boot it up.”
First, just the mention of technology (iPad) requires our exposure to and awareness of the device. Then we have technological language. Svoboda encourages us to question the way we use our terminology and the layers of meaning that this particular language provides. Though the word “interface” has been around for well over a century, it is one we now associate with the digital world. And, as it includes the word face, so the body becomes aligned with the digital. Too, we wonder about components of the language, thanks to the pairing of interface/face. Inter. Inner. Enter. And of course, there is the reference to the screen, staring “at its black” and the multiple suggestions this offers, not only of a blank or “off” screen, but also a suggestion of “fade to black,” an ending. And then there is last line--boot it up—taken from the early days of computerspeak-- meaning to start something. Of course this also brings to mind other phrases involving “boot,” as in to give someone the boot, which is, interestingly the opposite of starting but rather the finish. In just three lines, it is clear that this poem would not turn as it does without the hinge of technology. How compelling too that Svoboda ends the poem directly with tech language, especially given that the poem seems to begin so rooted in the human, and arguably, the intimate: “A weather of sweaters mostly moth-woven.”
Jan Clausen also uses technology references in her poem “Veiled Spill #1” from Poets For Living Waters:
“…This is the world. Where you can do anything. Synthesize a garden or tweet about Art. Pour concrete and sprinkle designer compost and sow exotic grasses. Draft an ars poetica on your mobile. Stock the second freezer with mice to feed the python. Where everything is superfluous like our bodies, but only an ant is more or less foolproof. I can’t get them out of my kitchen. This is the weird. Where nothing helps anything….” ***
Notice the language here. We don’t “plant” a garden, we “synthesize” it. We tweet about art; we draft an ars poetica on a mobile. All are observations rooted in the temporal and transitory, possibly suggesting the later “superfluous” nature of our bodies, perhaps even our ways of relating to language, or by extension, to technology.
While there are copious other poems that mention or use the language of technology, technical devices, or even pattern themselves after the restraints of technology, there are some poets who are, not surprisingly, taking the parameters of social media/social networking and using them as a foundation to invent new forms of poetry. Twitter and Facebook are two examples.
In OCHO #24—an issue dedicated solely to poets on Twitter--editors Didi Menendez (@didimenendez) and Collin Kelley (@CollinKelley) published a poem by JS van Buskirk (@JSvanBuskirk) with the title “Reversible Sonnet for Twitter.” Although each line in the poem is under 140 characters—the maximum permitted in a tweet--the poem on the page could easily be entered as a series of 14 separate tweets, in, of course, top to bottom order, or bottom to top order. If the poem is then posted as a live tweet, line by line, the reader then experiences the poem as line (pause) line, already lending an entirely different reading due to technology. And given the opening/closing line of the sonnet—like a snake eating its tail--the line “A Twitter sonnet offered with some hope:” becomes a kind of call to wondering how poetry will continue to exploit, explore, elevate or reinvent our readings of social media and form.
By limiting a tweet to 140 characters, one could surmise that Twitter already seems to set up its own form. But character count is only one level. How do we re-think language, rhyme, syllable, stress, line breaks, in order to fit into the 140 constraint? Do we incorporate symbol and abbreviation or no? What about hashtags? Etc.
Although there are multiple responses to this idea of a Twitter form—and interpretations of it—two Twitter poets immediately come to mind. And here it is important to note another crucial point. Given the constantly-evolving nature of technology, one can hardly ever hope to cover every creative impetus. Though I am discussing a few poets that I am familiar with—and flagrantly admitting my incredibly limited exposure—I am hoping that my observations are merely a starting point for further discussion. Where I have I missed? Tweet. Share. Discuss. Bring to our attention. Is there yet an “i-poetry”? A Pinterest form? A Google form? Are you working on something toward this?
One of the first twitter poets that I encountered was Patricia Lockwood—follow her @TriciaLockwood--who is known for her sexting tweet poems. Rhizome**** puts Lockwood’s style best: [she] “has inappropriately touched the imaginations of a thousand followers with her “sexts.” Born around the time of the Anthony Weiner scandal, the genre congeals gobs of glowing poetry from networked life’s greasy stew of blunt spam copy, collaged pop culture, and constant little spells of titillation.”
Margaret Ingraham’s poetry excursion into Twitter has been about consistency and longevity. (Follow her @InPoetweet). In early 2012, she began tweeting a new poem each day—currently she is up to almost 250-- a commitment that allows followers to see her poetry not just as “poetweets,” as she calls them, but as trajectory. (Tomorrow I will be sharing my interview with her and discussing not only her concept and impetus for the project—and her particular take on the Twitter form—but also where she has experienced confluence in the poetweet project.)
How does it work? My idea was that in order to truly experience a poem in the Facebook form, one must have an account and “friend” the form. By doing so I was hoping to raise and explore the question of what it means when reader and friend are one in the same. Are they? And what does it mean that a poem requires you to invite yourself/be approved in order to read it?
And, since the poem has its own page, and also its own form, it needed its own username. To find the form, one must search for Form OrFriend: (Look for the profile photo above of the "F")*****
How does the form work? It is hopefully another commentary on the ever-evolving language and parameters of social media. Originally the form was designed to play within the previous confines of Facebook pre-timeline, which would mean it would be read bottom to top, update by update. The sequence is composed of 20 “stanza updates” each written in a different persona. Each update is exactly 419 characters. (The number of stanzas and the character count were a direct commentary toward the former editing practices of Facebook. It used to be that if a user exceeded 419 characters in a post that Facebook issued an error message. So, 419 as a nod to editor Facebook, 20 as a means of pushing the 19 boundary.)
With the addition of timeline, the form gets another level of flux. Thanks to the dates on top of each stanza update, reading is a bit easier, though not as clear as it was in Facebook pre-timeline. A primer: The first post, or stanza update, began January 12, 2012. Often it is not visible when opening the page, so use the dots to navigate the center bar. The final 20th post, and the end of the form for this round, was May 1.
What is the hope? That the you/reader/friend are able to determine if these stanza updates are in conversation, if they reflect certain “tropes,” personalities, clichés, banalities or insights within Facebook and in social media at large. Here is a quick peek to give you an idea:
January 24, 2012
Buy me, sell me. Buy, by me. Promote me, share me, like me, wish you could click me, that button of love, love, love. Friend me, show me, tell me, share me, page me, tweet me, list me, star me. Open me, close me, blog me, text me, read me, mail me, poke me, listen, here, hear, bring me, invite me, create me, remember me. Face me, book me, rhyme me, tag me, shoot me, crop me, unblock me, there is always more me.
So, if you do the Facebook thing, friend the form. Respond within the form. Riff with your own version of a Facebook form.
In discussing the Twitter and Facebook forms I have really only looked at them in terms of being in one proverbial “place.” But the reality is that social media poems are not confined to print on a page. Perhaps one of the most interesting things about them is that that they are untethered, able to be shared—to be, indeed, a confluence—in ways that we can hardly begin to anticipate. The poet cannot determine who will retweet a poem, reply to a poem, “like” a poem, favorite a poem, deconstruct an intent. There is no way to determine the reach and (temporal?) scope of where the words will travel, once released. There is no end to the possibility of what a social media poem could inspire, create, perpetuate, change or destroy.
Stay tuned for tomorrow when we discuss how Margaret Ingraham has experienced confluence with poetry in social media, and how she has created her own genre of Twitter form as well.
*The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton, reading and panel, Decatur Book Festival, September 2, 2012.
**Please note my intention is not to provide a full reading of Svoboda or Clausen’s work but merely to introduce how technology is working within the particular poem.
***To read Clausen’s poem in full:
**** To read more on Lockwood:
*****Form OrFriend profile photo by Julie E. Bloemeke