Social Media and Literature

The maximum 160 characters for texting and 140 for tweeting, along with other forms of social media, have a concentrating effect on the verbal environment.
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The maximum 160 characters for texting and 140 for tweeting, along with other forms of social media, have a concentrating effect on the verbal environment. Examples of that effect are haiku reviews, 6 second videos, and the 6 word memoir. "Recklessly Squandering My Happiness On Today." The 6 word memoir was born in 2006 and soon was featured in universities, at dinner parties, on blogs, and on corporate retreats. Now it has a popular website and an expanding series of collections. At the very least, these forms of ultra minimalist narrative didn't emerge until after social media was on the scene.

Any concentrating effect of social media adds to the already existing atmospheric pressure of advertising. "Got milk?" The ever-reliable profit motive has already created a verbal environment of attention-snagging ultra minimalism. And already a new form of anonymous folk poetry has evolved in that environment: the bumpersticker, portable compressed graffiti.

We may even be hard-wired for ultra minimalism. It's embedded in many of our sentences in the form of idiom. That is an expression the meaning of which cannot be predicted from the usual meanings of its constituent elements, such as "kick the bucket" for "to die." Or: "eye candy," "funny farm," "gravy train," "space cadet," "bottom feeder," "cloud castles," "knuckle dragger," "cold turkey," "flower child," "wing nut," "fat cat," "barstool orphan," "gilded cage," "dumpster diver," "stud muffin," "Cadillac Christian." The reader can provide dozens more.

Literature too seems studded with ultra minimalism, if you look for it. History: Same anew, James Joyce, Finnegan's Wake. History: Echoing sob, Charles Macomb Flandrau, Viva Mexico. Architecture: Frozen music, Goethe. Human Condition: Quiet desperation, Henry David Thoreau. San Francisco: Occidental uttermost, Oscar Wilde. Conservatives: Engine kickers, Kurt Vonnegut. Planet Earth: Our body, Gary Snyder. Truth: Attainable accuracy, Thomas Pynchon. Hallelujah anyway, Kenneth Patchen. Conquer repugnance, Norman Mailer.

So, if social media, advertising, and our own tendencies are creating a new ultra minimalism, could there be a counterpart in poetry to those narrative forms, and if so, what would it look like? I suggest it has been here for decades in the form of the rock band name. A Darwinian welter of tens of thousands of rock bands desperate for attention throughout the English-speaking world has created some remarkable names and a tiny percentage qualifies as found poetry.

Most are two words: "Corner Laughers," "Reigning Echoes," "Cupid's Alley," "Guns Debating," "Lightning Riders," "Define Fiasco," "Brain Underfoot," "Liquid Picasso," "Backwoods Grin," "Threshold Dweller." Some are surreal: "Cat spin," "Giddyup Einstein," "Colostomy piñata" "The thes," "Rutabaga paradox," "Boxing Gandhis." Some are nonsense: "Flabbergasted hammerhandle," "Pitbull bikiniwax," "Whistle binkies," "Starscream's blitzwing," Some are based on puns and double entendre: "Mahatma Candy," "Piranha Nongrata," "Uncle Scam," "Chop Sueycide."

Some band names are three-words: "Dying heart smile," "End begins again," "Reasons in amber," "Murals in metaphors," "Penis goes where," "One star sky," "Math hurt head," "Child left burning," "Intercourse by eye," "Deaf to silence," "Pick my nose." Some three-word names are surreal: "Pass the cat," "Deputy hate angel," "Sonic fuzz monkey," "Smell the music," "Icicle butt plug," "Dead squirrel circus."

Then there is the ultra ultra minimalism of the one-word band name: "Pretaliation," "Bubbabarian," "McJesus," "Drunkenstein," "Idiocracy," "Othercide," "Techstacy," "Siolence," "Nawstalgia," "Fognauts," "Hipsy," "Eargasm," "Disasterpiece," "Bucolicious," "Powernoia," "Prefamous," "Blisster," "Corporuption." Of course, there are nonsense one-word band names too: "Scruffynerfherder," "McRamahamasham," "Shlafunkmotron," "Tallulalunabella."

Wallace Stevens wrote in "Le Monocle de Mon Oncle," "There is... nothing like the clashed edges of two words..." Most rock band names are two words, and with two-word band names the lack of a syntactical context allows for freer combinations and allows for every conceivable association of each word and the two combined.

If there was such a poetic form as the two-word poem, it would be the ultimate in literary minimalism and the vanishing point for that most characteristic of modernist trends in poetry: ever-greater compression, or breviloquence. Why couldn't the form of just two words have its own unique esthetic challenge that is just as valid a self-imposed restriction as a rhyme scheme or the seventeen syllables of a haiku? If a haiku is no less a poem than an epic, why should a two-word poem be any less a poem than a haiku?

W.S. Merwin is possibly the finest post-modern English language poet, and he has, characteristically, already explored this new form. In 1973, he published a unique book, Asian Figures, that was a collection of "adaptations" of literal renderings, ideogram by ideogram, of Asian poems, aphorisms, proverbs, and riddles. One consisted of two words: "Beauty / costs." Many were three and four words: "Champion / shadow boxer," "Suffering hurts / not death," "World turns / through partings," "Thief / plans even naps," "Can't reach / itch," "Wise / at the end," "Blames her mirror," "Invited nowhere / goes everywhere," "Big thunder / little rain," "Pleasure flower / pain seed," "Eyedrops / from a balcony," "Caution / takes no castles," "Sickly / survives them all," "Folly parades / wisdom watches," "Jelly / in a vice," "Luck turns / wait," and "Too poor/ for rats."

I don't know how many band names I have read over the last three decades, but if it doesn't reach a hundred thousand, it is certainly tens of thousands. My new book, Choicest Rock Band Names as Tiny Poems (available on Amazon or at is a selection of less than one percent of all those I have seen and probably less than 10 percent of those I have collected. Check it out for more band names, some two-word poems, and critical analysis of what may be a new poetic form for the age of texting, tweeting, the six-word memoir, the six-second video, and haiku reviews.

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