Interactive

Enabling New Platforms for Poetry

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(image courtesy Heyku)

OAKLAND, Calif. — Twitter has often been likened to haiku. Twitter CEO Dick Costolo was quoted making the comparison in The Atlantic recently: “Sometimes I get asked, ‘Don’t you feel that the 140 characters has meant that people don’t think about things deeply anymore?’ The reality is that you don’t look at haiku and say, ‘You know, aren’t you worried that this format is going to prevent people from thinking deeply when you can only use this many words and it has to be set this way?'” The brevity of the form makes the link inevitable.

Recently, I stumbled across Heyku, a social network that takes the haiku analogy and, well, makes haiku. “Something happens in life,” it declares well you log in, “and then you heyku.” There are guided writing prompts for those prone to writer’s block in such a short format. The app is also more progressive: it doesn’t stick to the Japanese-style haiku form (5-7-5 syllables) but the more English-friendly equivalent, meaning roughly 3-6 words per line (and that number changes each time, presumably to keep things fresh).

It’s a fascinating experience, with categories like #nocturnal and #love.  A quick glance at the #moment category reveals this gem from user N.San:

Cognitive overload…ache

Sound of numbers…scream

PC off… Off to happy place

And then I came across this, from user V.Isabelle:

Your licks and wagging tail

My little silly dachshund

Truly my best friend you are

A quick click later, and I saw her cute dachshund, but I felt it wasn’t necessary. The poem was story enough.

Heyku follows in the vein of the Poetry Foundation’s POETRY App, which I wrote about last year, and the popular email newsletter American Life in Poetry, started by Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate from 2004 to 2006. If those experiences are focused on rethinking how and where consume poetry, Heyku also encourages creation. It’s a terrific, lightweight, and fun way to engage users.

Another Poet Laureate, Natasha Trethewey, has kicked off a YouTube series for PBS called Where Poetry Lives.  Shot in the style of a news magazine, it brings to life the contexts from which poetry emerges and in which it is recited and experienced. The inaugral show takes a look at Gary Glazner’s Alzheimer’s Poetry Project, in which he uses poetry to engage memory. Here’s what Trethewey wrote on the PBS blog:

My own journey in becoming a poet began with memory — with the need to record and hold on to what was being lost. One of my earliest poems, “Give and Take,” was about my Aunt Sugar, how I was losing her to her memory loss. It seems fitting then that we began the journey to highlight the way poetry matters in the lives of countless Americans at the memory center, with people nearer to the end of their lives for whom memory is ever more essential.

All of these initiatives represent exciting new ways to experience poetry, and to see its continued relevance in American life. We have poetry slams, recitals and impromptu jams on the streets in physical space; these tech initiatives bring the art form to the online spaces where spend so much of our time.

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