Texting is the new poetry, says UK’s poet laureate

2 txt or nt 2 txt, tht is th Q. According to poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, the abbreviated messages shuttling between our mobiles might just be the stuff of Shakespeare.

It’s no LOLling matter. For many teachers and parents, texts and tweets are destroying English, creating a generation unable to spell, use grammar, or appreciate the beauty of any piece of writing longer than 140 characters.

But according to Carol Ann Duffy, Britain’s poet laureate, these shortened forms of communication are more literary than one might imagine. The poem, she says, is just another form of texting – essentially, both are ‘a way of saying more with less’.

For Duffy, poetry is ‘language at play’: it makes deep connections between people and words, expressing big ideas in a condensed form. Tweets and texts are the same because they force us to squeeze as much meaning as we can into 140 characters, and to think very carefully about the words we’re using.

The idea that a tweet can be a poem is just one example of how notions about literature are changing all the time.

And even the words of the English language – literature’s building blocks – are rapidly evolving. Young people’s speech, for example, is littered with new words, picked up from new media, different cultures, or just made up; slang words like OMG are now in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Throughout the history of literature, writers have always struggled to introduce new forms to what is considered ‘proper’ poetry.

When Milton wrote Paradise Lost in 1667, people were shocked that it didn’t rhyme. Now, most modern poets don’t even have to write in a regular metre, or use proper grammar, or spelling. According to Carol Ann Duffy, even bands like the Arctic Monkeys are 21st Century poets. Pop music and rap can be forms of poetry, with skilful use of language, rhyme and rhythm.

This view is supported even at the highest academic levels. English students at Cambridge University in 2008 were asked to compare a 16th Century Sir Walter Raleigh poem with Love is a Losing Game, by Amy Winehouse.

Novelty Value

Are poets like Duffy right to embrace texts and tweets with such enthusiasm? The idea of tearing down the conventional barriers and definitions of art does have a certain attraction. Why shouldn’t the new poetry be something that exists beyond the confines of the dusty library and the printed page? Texts, tweets and song lyrics could make poetry accessible to everyone, bringing poems into everyday life.

Not so fast, warn the guardians of tradition. Great poems are extraordinary works of art, containing deep truths about life, nature and human experience. To call texts and tweets poetry is to insult the genius of the poets of the past and to diminish poetry as an artistic medium.

You Decide

  1. Look up the lyrics toLove is a Losing Gameby Amy Winehouse. Should this have been chosen for a Cambridge exam?
  2. What is poetry?

Activities

  1. Write your own Twitter poems in 140 characters or less. Once you've had a practice, work together to make a longer poem of connected tweets, each written by a different person. If you can, why not tweet your poems – use the hashtag #TheDayPoetweet
  2. Choose an extract from a book or poem written in the past fifty years. Create a presentation of the interesting words and phrases that you find in the piece. Where have they come from?

Some People Say...

“If it doesn't rhyme, it isn't poetry.”

What do you think?

Q & A

If rap is poetry, it doesn't get much respect. Did Shakespeare have these problems?
Shakespeare was very successful in his time, but just as a good playwright, who was entertaining to watch. In the 16th Century, he wouldn't have been seen as the most important writer of all time, as he is today.
So why's he such a big deal now?
That came much later, in the early 19th Century. 'Romantic' poets, like Coleridge and Wordsworth, held Shakespeare up as an unmatched creative genius, embodying everything that was great and important in literature and art.
Were these 'Romantics' highly respected too?
Yes. But their work was new, and didn't always fit the mould of what was expected from 'great' literature then. Wordsworth, for example, wrote in the simple language of the everyday man – you might say he was a bit like the rappers of today.

Word Watch

LOL
Laugh out loud
OMG
Oh my God
Sir Walter Raleigh
an aristocrat, explorer and poet from the 16th Century – though he is more famous for bringing tobacco to the UK than for any of his poems.
Poet Laureate
The official government poet, traditionally responsible for writing poems to mark state events. Today, the role is more focussed on raising awareness of good poetry in the UK.
Carol Ann Duffy
A hugely successful poet, currently Poet Laureate. One of her most famous collections is The World's Wife, the stories of famous men in history, told by the women in their lives.
Milton
17th Century poet and writer, most famous for Paradise Lost, the story of the biblical Fall from Eden. Milton dictated most of the work to his daughters, who wrote it down for him – he went blind at an early age thanks to reading too much in poor light.
Metre
the rhythm of poetry.

Subjects

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.