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Feliz L. Molina Headshot

There's Always Room for a Poem Texting Party

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British Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy recently stated in The Guardian that, "The poem is a form of texting ... it's the original text. It's a perfecting of feeling in language -- it's a way of saying more with less, just as texting is." This also takes a different turn. What is the relation between the process of writing a poem and the writing/mobile communication tools that make it possible?

To burrow further down a hole, a humungous question that comes to mind is how is the form and content of a poem influenced by particular writing technologies (pen, pencil, typewriter, computer, smartphone)?

Texting as a potential poetic medium was readily exploited in 2001 (nine years after the first text message "Merry Christmas" was sent in 1992 by Neil Papworth via personal computer to phone). British poets Peter Sansom and UA Farnthorpe organized the interactive poetry competition hosted by The Guardian that called upon over 7,000 would-be bards. Participants were sent a poem a day and asked to rate the poem from 1-10 and text the grade back to a computer. The poetic event was the first of its kind; sporty, fun, and engaged with the medium. The winning text-message poem by Hetty Hughes is about the experiential uses of texting.

Txtin iz messin,
mi headn' me englis,
try2rite essays,
they all come out txtis.
gran not plsed w/ letters shes getn,
swears i wrote better
b4 comin2uni.
&she's African

(Dear Hetty Hughes, please kindly correct this rough translation.)

Texting is messing,
my head and my/(I'm) English,
try to write essays,
they all come out in texting.
Granny isn't pleased with letters she's getting,
swears I wrote better
before coming to university.
&she's African

Hughes playfully engages with the 160-character constraint. 'Playfully' is a word used to pack in varying circumstances involved with texting. Was Hughes in transit while texting the poem? Was she in the middle of doing something else? How long did it take to write? Where was she?

The text/poem is a document of the experience while using the medium in real time. It's also commentary on the generational divide between texters and non-texters, i.e. university students text more than write letters and grandmas think their grandkids write terrible letters because everyone mostly texts now. It's a difference in (be it poetic) articulation (or not) due to the medium. I'm reminded of the Allen Ginsberg slogan "first thought, best thought"-- an attribute of 'spontaneous mind'.

What constitutes texting (as an in-the-moment form of writing) as something 'literary' or 'poetic'? Perhaps it might take another fifty years to understand how the 'original text' is poetic. But the event itself, the thousands of texters and the air buzzing with short poems seems to be a poem in itself; a giant poem generated by everyone there.

I'm waiting for someone to throw another texting poetry event, one living room somewhere in the world would be good enough. Anybody?