THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY

THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY
April 12, 2016

Thursday, April 4, 2013

National Poetry Month 2013: Poetic Form Goes Tech with the Text Sonnet


It's Friday -- the first Poetry Friday of National Poetry Month 2013. Here at Author Amok, we are spending April in the TechnoVerse, that place where poetry and technology intersect.


So far, we've had guest posts from poets Gloson Teh (comparing writing poetry to writing code), Linda Baie (poetry apps for inspiration) and Barbara Morrison (using the writing support program Scrivener for poetry).

It is my good luck to have a tech-savvy teen in the house. Sure, once in a while my sixteen-year-old son is a tech snob. (“Mom, you are NOT getting an iPhone. iPhones are for old people.”) His skills with a computer have come in handy on many occasions.

His skills as a texter make me a target for eye rolls. If I type text messages with my fingers instead of thumbs, I get, “Mom. That is not how you do it.” Then I try thumbs. And auto-correct steps in, with dubious results.

My son doesn't text much any more, but it's how my
13-year-old daughter  communicates with friends
when she's not at school.
Today in the TechnoVerse, poet and educator Scott Slaby combines texting and poetry with a sonnet text-happy teens will appreciate.

Thanks for today’s tour of the TechnoVerse, Scott. (Don’t know what the TechnoVerse is? Read about it here.)

As an educator, I love teachable moments – those times when students have opportunities to learn something about themselves, about the choices they make, about life, and, sometimes, about Art. It’s especially wonderful when teachable moments involve Poetry.

It’s not often, however, that such an opportunity brings together my life as a public high school English teacher and my life as a poet. I often find it difficult to write poems that speak about adolescents and that also appeal to their sensibilities. Such was my intent with the following “text snt,” which was included in the fourth edition of Lewis Putnam Turco’s The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics Including Odd and InventedForms:

“The text sonnet (a.k.a. ‘txt snt’) first appeared in the mid-2000s, when a group of desperate high school seniors sought answers to AP multiple choice practice questions by ‘texting’ messages from their phones to their friends who had completed the questions earlier that day. Their English teacher, Scot Slaby, caught them, gave them zeroes, reported their cheating, and created this ‘txt snt’ to demonstrate the relevance of poetry.”

opN b%k

U need 2 l%k 4 hidN clues ptN
dis hi skool test -- yr wrkz success
depends on l%king for key words witn
d txt 2 help u solve dese problems; gez
agn, ‘ntil u feel ur right @ lst.
U thnk u know d terms bt dey confuz
u. Wonder how yr bud-E evr passed
dis li’l test? U raise yr h&, xQs
yrslf, n hide out ina bthrm stall
2 txt yr (A+) pal. No service? Wlk
bac, 2nd gez yr choices. Woch d wall
n lisN 2 d tckng, tckng clock:
dnt giv^ -- failure wldbe déjà vu:
ll answers r right hre n frnt of u.

Copyright Scott Slaby. Posted with permission of the author. All rights reserved.

Since the poem’s composition, I’ve noticed that many students “text” much more quickly than they used to with their thumbs, minimizing their need for textspeak. Sure, there’s the occasional “r u dare?” (which provides its own poetic opportunities), but most of my students’ “texting” involves proper spelling with a lack of punctuation. On the few occasions I have shared this poem with students, some of them have said that, at first, they find it difficult to read (these are the same students who do their paper writing on their cell phones, thumbing through letters on touchscreen QWERTY keyboards at speeds that stun even the most accomplished typists). 

The QWERTY keyboard dates back to the firstpatented typewriter.
Such difficulty is understandable, but once students slow down and focus on the language, giving themselves over to the textspeak “rules,” they find the sonnet readable enough and can recognize the language at play. After all, these students are not “all thumbs” with language. They communicate very differently from a generation or two before, but they are still curious and inventive, and, in respect to language, they’re inspired by “what’s new or different.” Like any student, they need to be hooked by a poem.

This is where the text sonnet meets them and what they usually take away from reading it -- Poetry is possible with all aspects of language. If the text sonnet has done anything, it has empowered some students to take risks with language while learning its basic rules. Whether some of them find reading the text sonnet to be “cool” or “weird” isn’t what’s important to me; what’s important is that they’re engaged, interested, and talking about language and Poetry, even if it is via text messages with their “bud-E” sitting a few feet away from them.  

For more on textspeak and other odd and invented forms, see the fourth edition of Lewis Putnam Turco’s The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics Including Odd and Invented Forms from The University Press of New England.

Available at Amazon.

Scot Slaby earned his M.A. in Writing (Poetry) from The Johns Hopkins University, and he currently teaches in Frederick, Maryland. His poems have appeared in The Book of Forms, unsplendid 2.3, Verse Wisconsin and elsewhere. He can be reached on his blog, What's at Stake?, at http://www.wutsatstake.blogspot.com.

Thanks, Scott. My friend Michelle is still making fun of me for the single time I texted "2morrow" instead of "tomorrow." I'm glad to hear that newer smartphones are making text speak less popular.

Can't get enough of poetry? Read, Write, Howl! your next sonnet -- traditional or textspeak -- with Robin Hood Black. She's hosting the Poetry Friday round up today.

I'll be a little delayed replying to your comments, friends. We are celebrating Miss J's thirteenth birthday (belatedly) at the Harry Potter theme park :-)

5 comments:

Linda at teacherdance said...

Hope it's fun with Harry Potter, Laura! Interesting how even the texting has changed, & so fast too. I enjoyed reading, & then re-reading the poem, wondering if, as you say, students like what's 'new & different', that they share the 'new', yet compare/contrast with the 'old', maybe making connections with the young & bold of long ago? Thanks, Scott!

Linda at teacherdance said...

Hope it's fun with Harry Potter, Laura! Interesting how even the texting has changed, & so fast too. I enjoyed reading, & then re-reading the poem, wondering if, as you say, students like what's 'new & different', that they share the 'new', yet compare/contrast with the 'old', maybe making connections with the young & bold of long ago? Thanks, Scott!

Matt Forrest Esenwine said...

Well, I'm glad that proper spelling is starting to become in vogue! Can you imagine scholars hundreds of years from now, trying to decipher what the heck was happening to the language?? Thanks for sharing!

Ruth said...

Wow! I do text haiku from time to time, but a text sonnet is way beyond my capabilities!

Diane Mayr said...

I'm so glad to find that textspeak is on the way out!