Saturday, 7 February 2015

Vanishings and Reappearances
in the Twittersphere:
Writing on and through Twitter 2

There was a potential poetry model for this in the work of the Russian writer, Linor Goralik. Back in 2011 at the Worlds Conference at UEA she mentioned that she had written a small book of Twitter texts. She did not read from the book at the time, nor have I found it since. There is work of hers in English available through Twitter links and maybe the Twitter poems are there but I haven’t found them. In any case, being on Twitter myself now, it was enough to know that such things existed. Having long been accustomed to working with formal patterns in poetry, the possibilites of such a tiny compass were inviting.

Before I proceed further with twitter I want to take a step back and consider, brielfy, in passing, the internet as a literary space or model.

The model of process
Just the other week on Start the Week, Tom Sutcliffe was talking to two neuroscientists (one of them, Daniel Levitin, also a musician, the other - Margaret Boden - an expert on artificial intelligence), the composer and conductor Ian Page, and the poet Frances Leviston about the idea of the organised mind. Dr Levitin was of the firm view that there is no such thing as multi-tasking, that the brain simply does one hasty job after another and that it drains its resources by doing so and for that reason suggested switching off the internet and focusing on a single task. Organisation, in this sense, was based on exclusion of the irrelevant: Leviston’s view was  that the kind of organisation this proposed was wrong for poetry, that poetry and the other arts prospered under conditions of unorganisation where a mass of apparently unrelated material was available at once.

I was wholly in agreement with Leviston on this point. The internet is a source of both material and method: its multifarious, undiscriminating terrain is a possible model of the writing mind, primarily on the level of association and in terms of rapidity of movement.

  • Off with his head, screamed the queen. And his. And his. And that other one's. I don't trust heads. I don't like your nose.
  • The boy at the queen’s side took out his catapult and shot the man’s nose off. It was his first act in the dynasty.
  • The space where the man’s nose had been was a vacancy that should have been filled. A man without a nose is an offence, said the queen.
  • The queen died. The noseless man’s head was impaled on a pole. All was well in the kingdom now the boy was on the throne.
  • The ghost of the noseless man hovered around the palace corridors. The boy-king had it arrested for nothing less than treason.
  • The generals of the army all had noses but some noses were bigger than others. A degree of consistency was required.

A multiplier of identity

There is a now a generation - that of my students and my children, who have grown up with the internet, and can move about it like human ghosts within a familiar and amenable machine. The poet Sam Riviere’s PhD thesis turned out to be his first Faber collection, 81 Austerities. Riviere’s first degree was in Cultural Studies and he had a sophisticated theoretical intelligence that adapted readily to the sensibility - or one of the sensibilities - available on the net. His central interest, as evidenced by the book, was the nature of anonymity or mask, a sort of emptying out whereby the vacuous or mischievous discourses of politics, commerce and self might constitute a new sincerity by reassimilation. The poems in 81 Austerities are mostly in voices other than ‘his‘, that is to say of Riviere as a figure the reader might identify with the voices in the poems. Instead of a personal voice Riviere offered the products of an excellent identifiable ear: a phonic unity.

Twitter contains multitudes as well as multitudes of voices, some familiar as a voice in the pub, some clearly assumed, some heard as through a megaphone. If the question of form - that 140 character limit - is the first consideration, then voice is second. Voice gives birth to form as form conducts voice: the two are indivorcible but the voice is clearer. One might trust to the form to yield up the voice.

The ephemeral, the disparate, and the discontinuous

1. The ephemeral
Twitter is an enormous rushing stream. You throw something in and it is immediately swept away. The ephemerality and brevity of the voice is a given. I’d like to suggest that the same ephemerality haunts our every day conversations. It is mortality by any other name and it is the engine that drives poetry itself. Here the symbol of mortality is compressed into a disposable cry or gesture, a flimsy gravity. As in one of the great silent films,  King Vidor’s ‘The Crowd’ of 1928, the masses sweep along the street, each small tragedy nothing in the traffic of the world....

[To be continued...]

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