In 2009, I attended one of the first spoken word events I’d ever been to. It was in the basement of a bar that had a rather loud air-conditioning system. I’m pretty sure the poems I read that evening were not very good, but I believed in them at the time and it was a start. I remember mentioning to one of the other readers I met that evening that a poem of mine had been awarded third place in the Ledbury poetry competition. He looked as if I had announced that I was Lord Lucan. And he looked even more surprised when, having suggested we link up on Facebook, I told him I wasn’t on Facebook.
Seven years later I have Facebook and Twitter accounts and hundreds of contacts on each. I also have a website (a grand name for this blog!) but I believe this is a productive use of my time. As I mentioned in a recent interview with Rachel Carney, this site isn’t really about promotion – I doubt very much if it has helped me sell a single poetry book. It’s about sharing and exploring.
The Twitter and Facebook accounts are not necessarily negative additions to my life- it depends on how I use them. Both have provided me with access to lots of interesting information and been used for meaningful communication as well-being a means to view videos of cats doing interesting things. As my Italian grandma used to say about her daily glass of wine, it’s all a question of moderation.
There have undoubtedly been times when I’ve spent too much time on social media.
I am aware of research into how endorphins are released by ‘Likes’ and how browsing can become addiction. I’ve also seen the ugly way in which conversations between poets with opposing views can quickly spiral into unpleasant exchanges, and have learnt to stay well clear of commenting on unproductive arguments which will lead me to be updated on how the subsequent unpleasantness unfolds.
I’ve noticed that some people connected to poetry seem to be on networks constantly. I can’t help but wonder how they have time for anything else, never mind writing. Of course I probably wouldn’t know this if I hadn’t spent too much time there myself and I don’t wish to condemn anyone.
An example of a positive aspect of being on Twitter is that I came across the website Practical Criticism , whose editors include the poet Sarah Howe. In a recent visit I read an interview with the Canadian poet Karen Solie which prompted me to start writing this post. Here is Solie talking in a very balanced way about the choice to utilise social media.
‘I don’t have any social media accounts, or a website. Though someone is threatening to make me one. We’ll see. But it isn’t that I think disparagingly about these things. I recognize their value to conversation, their potential for social justice initiatives, and there are people using these platforms for good. I’m not personally inclined to engage with their promotional or publicity aspects – though again, I don’t think doing so is a bad thing, it’s a valuable tool – and I haven’t really encountered any pressure from my publishers to join. It’s more expected of novelists, I gather, because the financial stakes are higher.’
I’ll leave you with another quote from the interview. It’s well worth taking time to dip into the website, if you have time.
‘It’s okay to be a private person if you need to be one. There isn’t any one proper or preferred way to be a poet, to engage with your communities. We do need to consider where best to devote our energies toward positive, helpful work that contributes to the health of our communities, but there are a number of avenues.’