Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Notes on Why Elizabeth Alexander's Presence on Twitter Matters

A New Year's resolution by poet Elizabeth Alexander may have involved doing more to engage social media. She started tweeting on January 1, and noted in her first tweet that "first poem coming later today."

Sure enough, later that day, she tweeted, "diaspora dear/the new year/is here, coast/to coast funky/collard greens/build yr bones/for the great unknown/blackeyed peasly yrs/with love."

In a subsequent post, I'll write about Alexander's poems and her "twitter poetics" series, which includes her tweets about "ongoing observations on the process of writing in new forms and contexts." But for now, it seems worth mentioning why Aelxander's active presence on twitter could matter for those of us interested in studying poetry.  

Alexander is obviously not the first African American writer on twitter, but she is one of the first major black poets on the social media site to start off by devoting her energies to a distinct twitter-based poetry project. (For various reasons, large numbers of published poets on twitter are hesitant about tweeting their poems on the site.). To the extent that major or highly visible figures in given fields can mobilize or at least influence attention on particular issues, what Alexander does on twitter could assist in motivating activities and shifting the black poetry gaze in alternative directions.

Black poets and poets in general do a good job interacting with the people, primarily other poets, in their discourse communities. But reaching out to the presumable non-poetry worlds might be a stretch and have some difficulties. The public nature of twitter, however, can create some new possibilities as a poet's literary identity converges with her twitter and online identity. 

Decades ago there were fierce debates about whether black writers were black or writers first. Along those lines, today when folks encounter @ProfessorEA are they reading a black poet who tweets or a tweeting black poet? Or better, how do the poems in Crave Radiance by Alexander relate to and differ from the poems by  @ProfessorEA?  

Some defining moments in the history of black poetry have occurred when poets occupied multiple writer identities. Remember the artist-activist role of poets during the black arts era, or the notion of the rapper as poet? I'm looking forward to what emerges from twitter-poets (or poem-tweets) from writers like Elizabeth Alexander.

No comments: