Poetry: smartphone-style

This is a guest post written by Charlotte Kertrestel, do enjoy!

“I wandered lonely as a cloud”...“texting on my new iPhone 5”. Sound familiar? Ok, so perhaps not the second line. I’m sure when Wordsworth wrote the lines of ‘Daffodils’, he imagined his sister, Dorothy, roaming through green pastures and trickling streams, marvelling at the wonders of the natural world. But now it seems that while modern poets might be getting their inspiration from alternative sources, they are also recording their innermost thoughts not with traditional pen and ink that the likes of Coleridge and Oscar Wilde, but with their mobile phones.

Not long ago I witnessed a friend recounting a rather unfortunate date that she had experienced the previous week. To top it off, she told me, with a particularly cringing look on her face, he wrote her a heartfelt love poem. Or rather he WhatsApped the said lyrical masterpiece.

Once upon a time, when mobile phones were a new and exciting phenomenon, users developed what we all will be familiar with as ‘text speak’; a new language whereby all words from the English dictionary were contracted and dissected, with letters changed for numbers, and numbers for words. The aim of this wasn’t to increase the challenge of having to decipher a text message before you could make sense of what was being said, but was ultimately due to the limited number of characters that could be sent in one message. Back in the day, you could only write 160 characters to limit a message to one single text. After all, this was before the days of unlimited text packages, when it cost you at least 10p to tell your mum what you wanted for tea, or to warn your friends that you were running late. It simply wasn’t feasible to demonstrate your finest vocabulary from the English language when a simple ‘C U l8r’ would suffice.

I for one am a firm hater of text speak- or should I say ‘txt spk’?- mainly because I’m not always brilliant at breaking the undecipherable code that some text messages can become. But I also hate it because of the fact that I actually value real words. In fact, I’ll admit that I’ve even gone as far as dumping a boyfriend due to his inability to compose a fully-fledged text message using full words that feature in the Oxford dictionary. Heartless, I know.

But while I may prefer to read a text message or email which reads as fluidly as a novel, it would seem that others are willing to celebrate works written in text speak. Back in 2001, the Guardian newspaper launched a nation-wide poetry competition especially targeted at mobile phone users. The competition limited entrants to using only one text message within which they had to compose a poem in either plain or shorthand English. The winning poem, written by a Hetty Hughes, won the prize. Courtesy of the Guardian newspaper, the poem goes as follows:

txtin iz messin,
mi headn'me englis,
try2rite essays,
they all come out txtis.
gran not plsed w/letters shes getn,
swears i wrote better
b4 comin2uni.
&she's african

Texting has changed a lot since 2001, however. With the influx of mobile phone developments over the past ten years, the majority of users now benefit from having access to unlimited text messages though pay-monthly tariffs. Also, with all smartphones featuring a QWERTY keyboard, whether physical or touchscreen, there really is no excuse not to type text messages out in full, plain English. Because of this, it’s now easier than ever to use your mobile phone to do what you would otherwise use a computer, or even a pen and paper for: to write. Whether you are sitting on the bus when you suddenly get a wave of inspiration, or whether you’re lying awake at night, pining over a lost love, the mobile phone seems to be the modern instrument to record your masterpieces.

That said, there has been a recent drop in the popularity of mobile phone poetry. Perhaps when the 160 character limit was taken away, the challenge of producing a text-style poem deemed became pointless for mobile poets. Though that is not to say that writing poetry using your smartphone is entirely a dying trend; with today’s smartphones offering users a multitude of functions, from texting, emailing and messaging on social media platforms, it is probable that modern poets are still writing pieces on their phones, but just not in the traditional text message format. In fact, Twitter poems have become the new phenomenon for modern smartphone era. With a 140 character limit, many users are typing out their ideas and emotions in tweets on the social media site, presenting their poems to the world. This can surely only be a good thing: poetry has so often been considered an art for the professionals, or for those who hide away their words on scraps of paper in bottom drawers. With the help of smartphones, poetry has now become accessible to all budding writers, or interested readers, with a simply touch of a button. For an example of Twitter poems, check out @TwitterPoetry.

Smartphones have not only enabled the pubic to write and read poetry by amateurs, though. There are numerous apps available for download which enable poetry enthusiasts to read the famous, or not so famous, words of, say, Carol Anne Duffy, Rupert Brooke, or even Edgar Allan Poe. The Poetry Foundation has released an app for both iOS and Android devices, which gives readers access to thousands of poems. Whether you’re a Literature student studying Shakespeare, or just Joe Blogs who enjoys reading good poems, the free app can make poetry accessible, in more ways than one.

So next time you’re feeling creative, you don’t necessarily have to reach for a notepad. Browse, type, tweet; with smartphone technology, the message can be firmly put out there: poetry doesn’t have to be boring.
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