Shake(speare) it Up


Shall I compare thee to Shakespeare?

The first poet was Shakespeare, the inventor of rhyme. He set the stage for a new world, for once men heard that word could pair with word in holy matrimony, they, too, began to pair off in fits of magnetism. Shakespeare wrote not only so(u)n(d)nets, but the very foundation of love itself. Since the beginning of his reign as Poet Laureate of the Western World, many men and women have tried and failed to write anything nearly as remarkable. Most have chosen to stay anonymous.

The Internet has, of course, made it much easier to remain anonymous. In fact, the digital age has totally transformed the way the poetry can interact with the poet, the reader, and even itself. Before we get to that though, I want to talk about the first paragraph that you just read. I don’t know about you, but to me, it looks like a block of text, arguably poorly written. There isn’t a story or a narrative structure. What should we call it? An argument could be made that if it’s composed of words and not quite a story, then it’s a prose poem, a seemingly contradictory label. I was taught in my high school English classes that there are two types of writing, prose and poetry. Prose is linear and uses proper grammar, and poetry is everything else. In my pull-out arts high school poetry class, though, I learned that a prose poem was both, that it was poetry that looked like it wasn’t poetry at all.

There’s a lot of poetry that doesn’t look like Shakespeare wrote it, and there’s also a lot of poetry that doesn’t really look like a poet made it. I say made because I’m not really sure that I want to say that all poets write poetry. Lately, I’ve been thinking of poetry as an “other” category, a label for art that doesn’t quite fit the definition for the traditional workings of a medium. I tend to see poetry as a distortion, as the warping of representation from a descriptive offering to something more visceral. Poems don’t ask to be understood, but beg to be felt.

Sometimes it’s hard to feel anything when you’re just reading words. It might not even have anything to do with whether a poem is “good” or not; it can be difficult to access what a poet wants you to experience by moving your eyes back and forth. I find myself really concerned with this when I’m writing. I’m totally aware of how hard it can be to get someone to read your piece “properly” (whatever that means because there obviously isn’t one right way to read something, but also if you’re not concerned with reader experience, then you probably aren’t writing with the intent of having any sort of audience). If the medium isn’t working and pure words aren’t cutting it, then maybe things need to be shaken up a bit. I’ve been trying for a while to make words enough, and while words are wonderful, they are objectively limited.

What digital technology offers that print doesn’t is the collaboration of the senses. Poems can be words and sound and images and (insert whatever you want). Perhaps even more importantly than that, interactive digital poetry allows the poet and reader to collaborate; poets make the platform, and readers participate in the experience of “writing” firsthand, whether that be through simply clicking links or playing an entire video game poem.

That isn’t to say that I don’t love words and writing straight-up “traditional” poetry (define traditional however you want to). I just think there are a lot of ways to let words breathe. It’s really easy to restrict yourself to accepted forms and mediums because that’s the “right” way to do it, but when that happens, you stop being creative. I think it’s really interesting to think about how technology can help us speak about the current human experience which, at least for anyone reading this, is inherently surrounded by technology, and that isn’t just because I’m learning about digital literature in class. We’re living four hundred years after Shakespeare; our poetry shouldn’t look the same as his.

If you’re interested in digital literature, here are some links:


3 thoughts on “Shake(speare) it Up

  1. Pingback: P(art)s of Speech | The SAS Honors Program Blog

  2. Pingback: the dictionary is beautiful; for some poets it’s enough | stein&unstein

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