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Txt Poetry Now: A Brief Guide

Dec. 2, 2016
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A sad truth is that the way poetry is taught in most high schools is exceptionally boring. So often, we’re fed poems by old misogynistic white guys we’ve never heard of, don’t care about, and whose bizarre obsessions with urns and clouds read as inscrutable, boring, weird, a-contemporary, and irrelevant. But poetry is a vital and urgent art, and one that is having something of a quiet resurgence in this age dominated by screens full of words.

There is a contingency of exciting poets, both young and mature, producing seemingly infinite volumes of work informed by our technological and digital age that you’d be hard-pressed to hear taught in Junior English, but whose work is making poetry relevant again, and changing the landscape of what we call poetry, or writing for that matter. Poets creating ceaseless books of endless citation, odd new ways of watching old movies, books out of other books and documents, and even poets inscribing poems in DNA.

While discussions of things like Conceptual Poetry and Flarf might be suitable for another time, the post-Conceptual scene contains so many Poets doing exhilarating, bizarre, affirming work that is so essential to check out. It would behoove educational institutions to catch up, and to remember that poetry, like all other arts and avenues of knowledge, produces the world we live in, while simultaneously reflecting its moment.

Many poets are using the medium of the screen, or the glut of information and images in the world and on the internet, to produce energizing work. Sophia Le Fraga’s Anti-Plays, for example, use text messages, computers screes, and chatrooms to tell stories. Her anti-play, W8ing, re-tells Samuel Beckett’s classic Waiting for Godot via a performed text chat: 


Le Fraga often performs her Anti-Plays with others, seated at laptops typing away, bifurcating the action between viewer, performer, and screen.

She wields the superficially low-brow emergence of text speak to evoke humor, pathos, and a window into this still-new mode of communication. The language, and the way the language is delivered, becomes dominant. And it’s funny! And fun!

And occasionally, as straight-forwardly frustrated as we all sometimes get:

She finds precursors in the most esoteric of realms and brings them to our most familiar sites of content ingestion: the phone, the laptop, the screen. 

In an age dominated by screens and capitalism, these poets’ work is often free and eager to be read. Performances occur regularly in major cities, again for free, and should be attended by all with an open ear. Check out Le Fraga and her work, as well as Troll Thread and Guass PDF, for all of the online, totally free, extremely experimental, contemporary, and rad PDF-based poetry you can handle. They are totally redefining the way that art, and poetry, are delivered and read. 

Plus, Troll Thread recently published this piece: How To Stop Worrying…, about how to start your own free PDF-based poetry press. So there you go. Do it! Poetry is easy: it’s just words. Plus, it’s super cool, and super free, because trust me, you will never make a dime off of poetry. But it’s probably best to keep it that way.

Images via Troll Thread, Vimeo, and Sophia Le Fraga