Social media has changed poetry, at least in terms of the sheer number of people who now read poems on a regular basis, or buy poems (Rupi Kaur’s collection Milk and Honey was a runaway bestseller). This has led to fierce debates about what poetry is and what it should be (see, for instance, Rebecca Watts’ takedown of the Instapoets), but whatever one’s view, it is undeniable that social media has led to more people than ever before publishing, and reading, poetry of some kind.
But this post isn’t about poetry on social media: instead it concerns poetry about social media, or at least social media and its related phenomena (being glued to one’s phone, the ‘texting’ culture, and so on). Of course, social media is still a fairly recent development, so the following poems are personal favourites of ours here at IL Towers. If you have further suggestions, we’d love to discover more classic poems about social media addiction, social media behaviour, and related themes.
1. Carol Ann Duffy, ‘Text’.
This poem might be the first great poem written about texting and text messages. It appeared in Duffy’s 2005 collection Rapture. The poem seems straightforward, and it largely is. But in a poem (another form of ‘text’, of course) that is about how the speaker or poet fails to get her meaning across to the addressee (who is the recipient of not just her text messages but of the poem itself), it is fitting that several moments in the poem are ambiguous, the meaning less clear.
Consider the simile ‘like an injured bird’ in the second line, which first and foremost refers to the delicate cradling of the mobile phone in one’s hand as if one were handling an injured small bird, such as a sparrow. But given the colloquial meaning of ‘bird’ to refer to ‘woman’, the phrase also carries the potential to be read as a reference to the speaker’s own state of hurt or emotional bruising: she is the ‘injured bird’ tending her mobile.
2. Oliver Tearle, ‘The Mediums’.
It took a week for us to stop hearing the voices.
Although they had been our constant companions
for years by then, a steady stream of chatter,
it reached the point where they became unbearable.
Each message had become a death to us. Just a little
to start with, soft like the twitter of birds,
not too intrusive perhaps, but then more insistent
by the day, slowly overwhelming, until
our own voices, thoughts, were lost to theirs …
We hope you’ll forgive this honourable mention of a poem from our own Oliver Tearle. ‘The Mediums’ is a poem about quitting social media.
The title is a kind of pun on the two different plurals of ‘medium’, a piece of wordplay reinforced by the later references to radios and televisions. (The ‘twitter of birds’ is also supposed to be a gentle nod towards social media, specifically Twitter.) Psychic mediums hear voices (or claim to), and people glued to social media are subjected to hundreds of ‘voices’ a day in the form of other people’s views and opinions. Tearle’s note to the poem (in the link above) explains some of the other allusions.
3. Jordan Davis, ‘Text Messages’.
As Carol Ann Duffy has shown, you can write a good poem about something as recent as texting. Here’s a delightful poem from the contemporary poet Jordan Davis (b. 1970), an American poet who was part of the short-lived ‘Flarf’ movement at the beginning of the present century. An assemblage of text messages ranging from the bizarre to the banal, ‘Text Messages’ reminds us that, when shorn of their context, text messages – like their more recent siblings, tweets and social media updates – are often mysterious and gnomic little missives, ripe for misinterpretation …
4. Brian Bilston, ‘When Les Linked In’.
Here’s a typically humorous but also astute commentary on the way social media makes us act in strange ways. Bilston is widely regarded as the Poet Laureate of Twitter, but as well as being a prolific poet on social media, he also offers some wry and resonant poetry about it – and about its effects on us, the way we project ourselves in certain ways through selfies and through ‘likes’, follows, and links. Here, LinkedIn, the major professional social network, is the topic.
5. Gail White, ‘Ballade of Indignation’.
We’ll conclude this pick of the best poems about social media with one which prefigured the ubiquity of social media before it was even ‘a thing’. Published in 2000, this poem already shows a nation of Americans glued to their phones, calling and texting rather than engaging with the world around them.
White (b. 1945) offers an impassioned tirade against such people, with the refrain at the end of each stanza – about putting your cell phone down – becoming more and more urgent and angry with each repetition…
Image: via Wikimedia Commons.