Amy is here today to talk about the ways in which fandoms, especially Tumblr, have embraced poets and poetry.
An Unconventional Venue
When we think about poetry, many if not most of us imagine some level of traditional sophistication. Museums, libraries, tweed-clad professors, dimly lit cafes. But it isn’t the reality, at least not the whole reality. Similarly, when we think about poetry and teens, the best-case scenario is usually some morose, greasy goth scribbling awful rhymes about their tortured souls. There is one place, at least, where no one might think to look, that you can find teenagers (and adults) engaging actively with poetry: Tumblr.
Though I can’t speak for all users, the presence of poetry, both original and referenced, on Tumblr has been impossible for me to miss. There are, of course, the common and well-loved quotes, posted and reblogged as just that – quotes that stand alone, perhaps with an author citation. More fascinating to me, though has been the way poetry is transformed and created on the social media site so commonly used by people across countries, age ranges, and interests.
There are many original poetry tumblrs in existence, and some are even well-known and loved within the tumblr world. It isn’t wholly uncommon to see a poem, carefully formatted in the frame of the rigid tumblr text post box, and signed (often with a set of initials) by someone you’ve never heard of before. Depending on the quality (perceived or otherwise) it’s tempting to believe that this is a published poet’s work that has been transcribed and poorly accredited by some teenager or other who doesn’t really understand the importance of intellectual property. This was actually how I found out about tumblr’s original poetry scene. After some failed googling and eventual backtracking to the original post, a reader may very well find that the piece was written by a tumblr user and published directly to their blog. There are even tumblrs related solely to reblogging these types of poems, or of posting anonymous ones written and sent to them.
Particularly I find this movement interesting in the realm of teenagers. It is a common joke to talk about teenagers writing bad poetry in their journals, but it does come from a place of truth. Poetry is, in terms of writing privately, an accessible way to explore writing and process feelings. For kids who do get into writing poetry it seems only reasonable that the modern convention so central to their lives – social media – would become part of that. Additionally, depending on the age and community of the user, Tumblr is often a place where one can exercise an interesting version of privacy. Because there is no requirement for providing real names or photos, many people operate with at least some level of anonymity. You can have a tumblr that none of your classmates or family members have any real knowledge of. So even though you may have tons of followers, you are insulated (to a point) from a certain kind of exposure.
What does this have to do with poetry? Poetry is often a very emotional, private medium. It is also one that is hard to judge, especially when looking at one’s own work. So, despite the likelihood of teens writing poetry, most of them will be hesitant to show it to family or peers. There is also the concern that, in general, teens are not taken seriously. But a teen who shares their poems on a tumblr can feel comforted that it may be shared or read without any knowledge of the author’s age, sexual orientation, gender, etc. The risk in seeking praise, validation, or simply a space to share is thus greatly lowered.
In terms of actually engaging with poetry, I want to use the example of a particular poet. The poetry of Richard Siken has been hugely and dynamically embraced by fandoms and the tumblr community. In addition to the simple sharing and appreciating of his work, users have engaged with Siken’s poetry much in the way they do with other content. They incorporate it into fanart, photoshopped graphics for movies and television, even create original graphics and music playlists for the work itself. There is even an annual celebration within the fandom for the show Supernatural called Siken Week (http://sikenweek.tumblr.com), in which fans create media that directly combines the content.
Siken’s poetry, it is worth noting, often has themes of love between two men. There is also an element of subversion often present in fandom, particularly on tumblr. There are lots of interesting discussions about things like the long time prevalence of ‘slash’ (homosexual relationships) and smut (sexually explicit content) in fanfiction. For the above mentioned reasons relating to anonymity, these online spaces are often used to explore ‘taboo’ ideas. Siken’s poetry, then, fits right in. The Supernatural fandom has presumably taken so strongly to it because the two romantic relationships most commonly associated with the fandom (though not necessarily within the show itself) are both male/male. A significant portion of the fanbase is also interested in what is known as ‘wincest’ – the romantic/sexualization possibilities and implications within the largely dysfunctional and codependent relationship between the show’s main character who are brothers.
It is not Supernatural alone, however. A quick search of recent posts on tumblr tagged with the word ‘siken‘ yields fan creations for everything from Orphan Black to The Hobbit.
Not only are these modern audiences aware of and enjoying poetry, but they are actively engaged with it. The same teens who may be groaning over Emerson reading assignments at school are spending hours in front of their computers interpreting, changing, layering, and dissecting other poetry.
There are a lot of questions that come up when we think through these things. For me, though, the most important thing to take is a realization: poetry shouldn’t live on a pedestal. I’m sure more than one stodgy old professor would be HORRIFIED to see a classic poem photoshopped over a scene from Teen Wolf, but me? I think it’s absolutely beautiful.
Thank you to Amy for this insightful post! I definitely have a lot of new poetry to explore now!
If you want to see more of her, be sure to check out her blog: http://amydieg.wordpress.com