I came to Twitter late for someone whose birthday toes the line between Gen Y and Gen Z, meaning I used my first hashtag sophomore year of college rather than my sophomore year of high school. To this day I wouldn’t consider myself fluent in tweets or memes; I’m much more comfortable exploring astrology threads and following dead writer bots who wax poetic from auto-generated phrases.
My spectator leanings and niche appreciations though do not diminish the possible value of twitter as a place for discourse, specifically for that of the active online poetry community. I probably do not need to even write ‘active online,’ as to be ‘active’ in this age as a community is to be online—but maybe that’s just the millennial in me talking. I do think it is fair to say a shift has occurred in the way presses, publishing houses, and journals operate and reach their many readers; job positions with titles like ‘social media editor,’ ‘content manager,’ and ‘audience engagement manager’ continuously crop up when searching “publishing” on Indeed or LinkedIn, and journals that do not have an online presence beyond their website can appear to young professionals age ranging from 23-38 (those darn tech-savvy millennials) as behind the times, mismanaged, or even as antiquated gatekeepers.
When creative writing is already viewed as an unstable career, writing outlets in general are pivoting to video, and everyone keeps asking ‘does poetry matter,’ I would hope organizations that care about words would try any and all ways to stay viable, including the use of social media.
I want to clarify that Twitter is not the best platform that exists. Truly, none of them are without their problems in privacy, user guidelines, and report abuse settings, but Twitter as a text-based app offers, in terms of accessibility, one of the best forums to discover writing. I say this as someone who’s currently in school for poetry, at a program with esteemed writers, a vast library, and a diverse visiting writer’s series. I still think Twitter has exposed me to more journals, job opportunities, up and coming poets, and current poetic theory than the few listservs I’ve picked up here. I will admit I am only in the fall of my second year, but I want to push back against the thought that higher education consistently provides ‘better’ opportunities. Or that when academia has such opportunities it holds it close to the vest. I see this debate on Twitter constantly, to MFA or not to MFA, and I hear its iterations within my classes and department, both venues with the assumption that by dint of an MFA’s inaccessibility it’s operating in a different world. And for the most part I disagree; the main difference I’ve noticed between classes and tweets is that in one my community is seated in the same room as me, and in the other they are virtual. Each comes with separate timelines and responsibilities, but I do not see the need to differentiate much beyond that. Often, these institutional worlds and homegrown worlds seem separate, but they have common goals of education and practice. I won’t get into the various ways an MFA is beneficial, or even how it is contentious (because I find it to be both) but how I think Twitter is not just a supplement to arts education but a very real space that allows for innovation and experience.
Chen Chen, Kaveh Akbar, Eileen Chong, Safia Elhillo, and Eve Ewing are all popular contemporary poets situated within academia, who all have an active twitter presence. They approach Twitter as a place to share their writing and to uplift others’, while engaging in online work separate from their positions (as instructor, as graduate student) at institutions. Akbar created Divedapper, a site dedicated to sharing interviews with esteemed poets with as many people as possible, a site “free forever to anyone with an internet connection.” He cites this virtual location as a place he has met many of his IRL poetry friends, including Francine J. Harris and Danez Smith (also active on twitter). His use of online spaces and “Poetry Twitter” changes it from ‘just’ a forum to a pathway providing insight and education that would have had limited reach if his interviews were held in person at his college.
I read at least one new poem a day from a writer I hadn’t heard of because I follow accounts dedicated to sharing ‘morning benedictions’ from poets who have affected them– a much quicker process than reading the other titles published page in the back of books. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading from a print book; I appreciate the time and effort involved to get a collection to publication, but in no way do I think what the print book says is immediately better than what an electronic publication says just because it is in print. Many up and coming journals have only their website and their social media; they do not have a set of offices or a budget beyond their goodwill and connections. This type of publication does not have a deficit in the art it presents, nor should it be viewed as a “lesser” publication by those who have the (poetic) cultural capital as an established writer to help it thrive.
I’ve heard recently that “twitter is dead” and no longer a prominent platform. I tend to disagree from my side of what’s trending, as Poetry Twitter only seems to grow day by day, and grow its writers right along with it.
While we’re on subject…follow us on twitter! Duh!