Monday, April 20, 2009

Poets take up a new muse - modern technology

Simon Armitage spoke recently of his fascination with the iPod. With poets increasingly taking up modern technology as their muse, Hannah Waldram speaks to poet Tom Chivers about the idea of the "digital native" and writing in imaginary emails.

Hannah Waldram writing in The Telegraph, 17 Apr 2009

Tom Chivers (left) has been writing poetry since he was 16, but has recently taken up technology as his muse

The poet's muse is traditionally a goddess with long flowing hair, emblem in hand - but for a new generation of poets the muse is a digital native with WiFi access and an iPod.
Tom Chivers is a 26-year-old poet living in East London who in recent years has found he wants to let technological advances in society influence his writing. His witty contributions to the poetic world are fresh, laugh-out-loud constructions about how technology affects our day-to-day lives.
"There's a strong tradition in a lot of poetry of speaking with the lyric voice, the personal "I". Some people shrug off anything else as modernist weirdness," he said. But Chivers thinks he is from a generation of poets who are willing to challenge perceptions and are open to a different kind of poetry. Although, he says he is not quite a "digital native."
"I was chatting to a friend of mine and we were both saying people our age are a half breed," said Chivers. "If you remember computers coming into your school then you are not quite of that group."
His poem, "The Islanders" is a play on words inspired by the concept of the "digital native", where a community of flashdrive-garlanded individuals speak "in an elevated form of hypertext, interspersed with Java."

Elsewhere, Chivers tries to steer clear of inserting computer-speak into his poems, and instead likes to play with form and tone to mimic how technology is omnipresent.
He recently published a pamphlet - The Terrors - a sequence of imagined emails written to past inmates at Newgate Prison.
"It takes a certain confidence to write in imaginary emails," said Chivers. "What I wanted was to have lots of tonal shifts - the way you lose information and meaning. The fact i have used this spurious form says something about poetry."

A poet since he was 16, Chivers has only just began to explore technology in his work.
"I think the change is from Web 2.0," he said. "The early notions of the internet were the teenage boy in his bedroom cut off from society. But Web 2.0 reverses that. I am interested in the way modern technology and digital technology is becoming increasingly representative of the real world."

As for the bards worrying about technology signalling the loss of words and metaphor by shortening everything into 140 character messages, Chivers said he is positive. He draws on the fact in medieval times monks would shorten Latin words to save space, and he still thinks tech-poetry can arouse deep thoughts.
"One of the things about technology as it is today, it does make you think about some of the big questions in life," he said. "It is still challenging the same big ideas. Virtual reality makes you think about self identity."

Simon Armitage, at this month's Laugharne Weekend in Wales, spoke about his fascination with modern technology - in particular the iPod. In his latest memoir, Gig, Armitage reveals his latest obsession with the "little white box":
"On long trips, relieve the boredom by pitting your wits against yout iPod. Wire the iPod through the car stereo - set it to "shuffle songs", and turn it face down on the passenger seat. The game then is to guess the name of the song, the album its from and the group or artist before the song ends. A point to yourself for every correct answer, a point to the iPod for every wrong answer and there's a bonus point for saying the song title, before it's actually announced in the lyrics."

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