Mon 18 November 2019
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Nick Laird on poetry online
I got an iPad last week and spent this morning exploring a few of the 718 applications returned when you search for "poetry" writes Nick Laird

The screen on my laptop only appears, like some wayward genie, if it's gently rubbed a certain way, and my red Nokia mobile's so antiquated that last week a teenage waitress picked it off the table and said: "Wow, cool, retro." When I receive a picture message I have to go to a computer and type in a code to see it. In an effort to upgrade, I got an iPad last week and, having finished Angry Birds, spent this morning exploring a few of the 718 applications returned when you search for "poetry".

Wattpad, a free site where people share their work, claims to have 100,000 (user-generated) books. The poem "Hatred" (which has 26,386 reads, about 10 times as many copies as the usual TS Eliot prizewinner sells) begins

hatred feeling in my heart
it was you that cause this all
with that hatred stinking deep down in me
why does this happen so often
with that hatred in my heart
I am the one who evil inside
and you are the angel sent from heaven . . .

Like almost all the work I've found online, punctuation's forgone entirely, but at least it's free and, I'm assuming, adolescent, so let's give the kid a break. Still, a poet should spend longer writing a poem than the time it takes to read it, and a problem with the internet is it demands profusion: you have to post something or you might as well be off-line. That's how you get 100,000 books and nothing worth reading. A good poem takes time, years in some cases, and while immediacy is a virtue when it comes to social media, it's a curse when it comes to verse.

That rhyme might come from one of the many poetry "assistants", rhyming dictionary apps offering solutions for a writer at the end of her inspiration and line. PortaPoet (accompanied by a picture of Shakespeare) asks "Old and overused poems not cutting it or not your style? It's time to step up your charm and write your own!" Another, Poet, is an "easy to use navigator with big rhyme (and synonyms) dictionary" to "help you create heart-candy poems for your loved ones". The example of "heart-candy" shown is

Three in the morning
In saloon smell of pine
Our first dance till the dawning
made moment so divine . . .

Word World Lite is "a completely unique type of dictionary – as it's one that you create yourself!" (I was reminded of when Baldrick burns Dr Johnson's dictionary and Blackadder tries writing it from scratch: after 10 hours he's got every word in the English language except aardvark still to do, and he isn't very happy with his definition of aardvark.) "Word World gives you all the tools you need to create your own personalised dictionary. You can quickly enter new words and ideas . . . the more words you add, the more robust your dictionary becomes!" I suppose the idea behind the app is to increase vocabulary, but even its name is disappointing, with that suggestion of a simpler (and more simply spelt) version of reality, and it's presented not as a learning tool but a way to personalise something as shared and general as a dictionary. The rise of "personalisation", of individualism, seems unstoppable, except it's hard to make out anything as defined as an "individual" in all this. It looks like the subsuming of the single consciousness within the hive mind. What's presented as choice is actually lack of it. With the poetry assistants, for example, a thought is cut and sliced by the limits of the rhyming dictionary. There's a format and you fit it, not the other way round.

For the rest

The Guardian
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