Sunday, July 6, 2008

2b or not 2b? Texting might be good for us after all.

Texting has not been the disaster for language many feared, argues linguistics professor David Crystal in the Guardian. On the contrary, he believes it improves children's writing and spelling.

Interestingly, I asked my creative writing students this year at Massey to write text poems on their first day. One job of poetry, after all, is to do away with dross and another is to focus on a clear and tangible expression of the intangible. Texting in a nutshell, really.

They had to write a poem on their phones about a thing they were like and why and then text it to me. The results were revelatory.

There was the young woman who said she was like a rubbish bin because she hoarded unwanted things and was constantly hungry, another who said she was a second hand dress 'Beautifl in al my imperfctins', and another who was a window 'open minded wen I wnt 2 b/Closed minded wen I wnt 2b'.

And this included people who had never written a poem before, dreaded it even. For weeks I thought of them like that: the bin, the dress, the window, the hula hoop, the lightbulb, the radio. Then all the other work intervened along with course requirements and assessments. Life got more complicated.

Going back over the text poems now I think how surprising and beautiful they were.

How true.

They have a wonderful tossed-off, caught-in-the-act energy. They kick aside consonants, elide vowels, and try to do away with the very things they are reliant on to get the message across. They are down to, what Anne Enright calls, their 'clean white bones.'

Whatever else my students wrote over the semester the text poems still shine as some of their best work. They did what texting does best: spoke directly from the mind to the hand to the eye of another, and in embracing metaphor (grudgingly, furiously, curiously) also made a good fist of that thing poetry does best -- expressing the inexpressible.

No comments: