A few weeks ago, I got an email from AWP that said one of the panels I submitted and had accepted for the conference— “ Preserving the Memory: Strategies for Keeping the Work of Deceased Poets Alive”—had also been selected to be highlighted as a featured social media event. They asked for panelists’ Twitter handles. The day had come. I had no handle, so I decided to finally give Twitter a try.
I have been on Facebook for a number of years and find it, often—especially during especially politicized moments—combative, small-minded, and, worse, possessed of a shriveled soul. Still, I have witnessed and been a part of enough isolated moments of compassion, generosity, empathy and spirit that I can see the occasional redemptive aspects of this shared space—albeit a space shared in a virtual reality.
My experience with Twitter, on the other hand, has been one of disappointment. The tone, in general, is snarkier, even more self-absorbed, almost sociopathic at times. It is a realm replete with primadonnas of all socio-political stripes. Is it any wonder at all why a man whose disdain of others, a deranged creature full of contempt like Donald Trump, would find the Twittersphere an accommodating and useful place to deal his brand of belligerent, hateful, taunting, 240 characters or less rubber bullets at the crowd?
Is it any wonder, as Bloomberg blogger, Rani Molla, points out, that “Twitter has just a fifth of Facebook’s users and is having trouble courting new blood.” Is the petty selfishness the reason? And why is Twitter a place where the worst of us feel free to hold forth and release our lesser angels? Molla also reveals that “Twitter’s users skew younger and are more diverse than Facebook’s; they're also wealthier, more educated and more likely to live in urban areas.” Does it have something to do with the slight skewing toward youth, affluence, education and diversity?
Perhaps it has to do with the fact, as TNW blogger Nate Swanner puts it, that “Nobody connects with loved ones on Twitter; it’s just not what the platform is for.”
As a writer who has devoted 20 years of my life as a literary editor with an eye, always, toward creating space for young or underknown poets among the more well-known writers I’ve published, as one who fully believes in the democracy of art, I am particularly dismayed to see that Twitter also is a location where some poets and other literary writers engage in ways not so different than does Trump. Several of the biggest, most effusive of the literary primadonnas only hold forth on Twitter. Others post in both but seem to act in a more reserved and civilized manner on Facebook.
In the end, it is what it is. But, here’s the thing: in a culture where poets are seen, by the President, his followers, and many others beyond that particular sewer, as useless, unfathomable, over-educated, nonsensical and a waste of taxpayer money, how is it that we can see each other—so often—with disdain? For too long now—ironically in a time when more great, diverse poetry is being written than in any other period—there has been a pall of pettiness over the poetry landscape. The lines—wouldn’t you know it—are drawn along traditional and expected boundaries: identity, gender, age, and aesthetics. I find it ironic that a reviewer like William Logan can be held in such universal disgust by most contemporary poets while many of these same poets spew similar sorts of venom at one another. There are reasons, but I don’t care about them. What I care about is poets coming together against the common foe: the inability of most Americans to read, write and think critically; to recognize and engage with ambiguity and difficult texts; to care enough about the words of another to show empathy; and to choose to read poetry—as difficult as it can be to understand—BECAUSE it is difficult and offers a thoughtful place for mind-building. If we act so much like the man most of us have rallied against, how can we even begin to find the unity and comradeship needed to take on the task at hand?
My New Year’s resolution—other than to drop a few pounds—is to keep doing what I do in A Poetry Congeries. It’s a space that I feel is nearly holy. Since September of 2009, no poet has been published more than once (translators excluded). The poems of Pulitzer Prize winners reside alongside of those by the unbooked or somewhat forgotten, the up and comers with those of the fully arrived. I do my best to create diversity of all kinds. Poems that first appeared in A Poetry Congeries are included, now, in hundreds of books, many of them first books. Perhaps, as Swanner claims, no one connects with those we love on Twitter, but I hope that this virtual place, A Poetry Congeries, can be a temple where poets and other readers check their guns and I-Phones at the door and read the pages of the text I’ve been curating these nine years. There will be some of your favorites here. You might think, too, that some of the chapters represent art you have no use for. You couldn’t be more wrong.
Happy New Year. I’m on Facebook and, yes, for now, on Twitter: @jhoppenthaler