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Friday, October 07, 2011

Open Letter to the News & Observer 

Are Facebook status updates the new poetry?

Is texting vernacular just e.e. cummings shaken and stirred?

Hardly says Clarion Content guest columnist, poet and writer, Amber C. Crews. Ms. Crews pulls no punches with her take on an article penned by Taryn Oesch here in the Raleigh News and Observer. Ms. Oesch blithely asserts, "I've decided that 21st-century communication - email, Facebook, text messages - aren't a breakdown of human interaction and relationships, but a form of poetry." Like Ms. Crews, our editor's instinctive reaction upon reading that line was, "Wait. What?" We love that there are people who feel passionately about the state of poetry in our era.

Stretching the limits of Facebook...

We warn you, as we often do, dear readers, the following letter, which is from the heart and the gut, is PG-13, like a lot of excellent poetry.


"You’ve got to be kidding me, or we are all fucked."

-Amber C. Crews

If the opinions of Taryn Oesch in her article "In our text updates, we are making poetry and connections" are at all representative of our cultural attitude towards art and community, then we are all fucked. (Read it here.) As a poet and writer, I have a close relationship with words and meaning. Ms. Oesch proposes that "[t]he purpose of poetry is to get as much meaning and feeling across as you can in as few words as possible. Aren’t texts and Facebook statuses the same concept?"

I don’t want to get into an argument about the definition of art and its purpose. It has been debated ad nauseam and art is becoming increasingly difficult to define in the 21st century. But you have to be kidding me. Facebook status updates and texting are poetry? I have looked over the shoulders of more than a few friends, just curious about the whole Facebook thing, not having a personal account, and I remember a bunch of pictures, random quotes, and song lyrics, and status update gems like "like if you have That one friend who will borrow stuff from you & never give it back" and "that awkward moment When you have too much lotion on and don`t know where to put it."

Looking at my own text inbox now, I see "Please tell me you are enjoying this gorgeous day!" "Yep!" and "Can I borrow one egg pleeaaasseee!?" Grammar is largely out the window, context an idea of the past, and nothing exists that is not instantly forgettable.

I don’t know how other poets work, but when I’m creating a poem each word, punctuation mark, and even every space on the page is labored over, thought about, tweaked, laboriously re-written, all in the search for the perfect combination that will express the precise image, feeling, and meaning that I intend. I highly doubt that is what’s going on with the light speed, verbal vomit that litters cell phones and internet pages. Ms. Oesch states that “Some say it’s ridiculous, the need to put everything on Facebook. I say it’s fundamental self-expression. It’s art in its most basic form.” If Facebook and text messaging represent our cultural “self-expression,” our creative power, our ability to reflect and propose new ways of seeing the world, then again, I say, we’re all fucked. Art, writing, and the courageous exploration of new thought are what balance all the depression, debt, death, and darkness of this chaotic universe. To see the human spirit soar in something challenging or moving, anything that gets you to think, gives meaning to life. If I am looking into a future where all that is boiled down to unconscious streams of cyber-messaging . . . I can’t think of a more desolate existence pretending to be connection.

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Maybe my friends are more expressive than yours.
(I'm kidding.)
I agree with you in some ways. But I do think that technology is changing the literary arts, for better or worse, and if we start looking at Facebook and texting differently, we'll be able to reach a lot more people.
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