Saturday, January 19, 2013

The absence of some widely known poets on Twitter

Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Rita Dove, Sonia Sanchez, and Maya Angelou have little to no active presence on Twitter. That is, 5 of the most widely known living black poets do not actively participate on a social media site that African Americans are "more likely to join." Award-winning poets Yusef Komunyakaa, Nikky Finney, Terrance Hayes, Marilyn Nelson, and Tracy K Smith do not appear to have an active presence on Twitter, and although U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey has an account on the social media site, she rarely posts.  

I'm not, by the way, recommending that these poets become more actively involved with Twitter. According to reports at least, social media could be a way of wasting time. Furthermore, younger people are more likely to frequent a social media site like Twitter, and the majority of the most prominent black poets tend to be older.  

Still, the absence of some widely known African American poets on Twitter did come to mind recently when I realized that one explanation for the large and rapidly growing numbers of black people on the social media site. Some observers and studies explain that the over-representation of African Americans on Twitter is because "members of this group are more likely to be interested in entertainment and celebrity news than Whites."

The field of African American poetry tends to invest more in history than in "entertainment and celebrity news."Accordingly, the field of black poetry, notwithstanding spoken word poetry and rap, attracts older readers and participants as opposed to younger ones. If poets wrote about entertainment and celebrity news, they might gain some popular appeal, but they might also face some derision from their poet peers. And as we know at this point, how poets judge other poets matters a great deal these days for career advancement. 

The possible, I say again, the possible disconnect between what young black people are interested in reading and what prominent poems by African Americans are more likely about is fascinating and worth thinking about especially when and if we bother considering factors that explain interest and disinterest in poetry.

Digital Humanities 

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