It is the 21st century and my friends and I live on what we call "the bird hellsite." While Twitter has lots of strikes against it (primarily that they value a purely intellectual concept of free speech over their non-fascist users' safety), there's also some delightful and original short-form writing there. Folks, I want to talk about poetry memes. These come in two main formats: the meme-turned-poems and the poem-turned-memes. Like so:
Apparently the "salesman slaps roof of car" meme has been around for a hot minute, but it first crossed my Twitter list with literary references like Yeats' Second Coming:
and Hamlet's soliloquy:
and even original works lampooning overdone poetry tropes:
I enjoy the inherent surrealism of these images, fittingly bizarre descendants to the car full of spaghetti that originated the meme. It's the same kind of absurd and replayable humor I get from some of my favorite Vines: the perfect diptych of "is that a weed" and "is that a police"; online banking; or the entire novella of attitude that is drugs owl. (RIP Vine, truly the apotheosis of internet culture.) There's no point to these things. They just are. That's poetic: something to say that can only be said in this clipped, idosyncratic form, with plenty of room for interpretation.
Although I fondly recall an illustrated, handwritten poster of "this is just to say" from my high school English classroom, watching it get adulterated into pop songs and memes and the faux-Hemingway "baby shoes" thing fills me with glee. The thing about sparse Imagist poetry is that every word holds so much weight, every line break ramifies. So when something comes along that can gently topple the weightiness while creating an entirely new form, I tip my proverbial hat to that. The form that solidified here is: "pop songs but they're about eating the plums that were in the icebox."
There are a ton of delightful examples in this Metafilter thread, many of which also reference a sui generis Reddit meme, "i lik the bred", which is also delightful in its own post-lolspeak way.
Someone even made a Twitter bot to substitute new words into the plums poem. It does a better job matching the scansion than it does making anything meaningful, but my appreciation for Twitter bots/bot-adjacent presences with artful purposes is well-documented, and so here we are. (Always send me your favorite twitter bots, by the way.)
One result of being Very Online and being curious about how people use language is that you start wondering how certain usages bubble up and get accepted. How did we get phrasings like "none plums," or conventions like putting asterisks around the action that sets up the rest of a tweet, not to mention "delete your account" as a popular insult for politicians? Sometimes I wish I didn't impulsively follow these things. It's like reading the dictionary — often dull, occasionally head-scratching or vaguely offensive, full of tangents and statements you couldn't begin to verify if you tried. I appreciate the poetry memes as a way of being playful with language in a space where language is so often used thoughtlessly or maliciously. We still have jokes, and we need to laugh to resist despair.
(Shoutout to my friend Cinchel for inspiring the topic of this letter by asking me about poem memes at a barbecue last month. He is great and it was a good conversation. Buy his drone records.)