I read a poem on Twitter a few weeks ago that changed my life. Which isn’t to say that my entire life changed, or that I altered my behavior or manner of being. But I will say this: scrolling through my Twitter timeline at two in the morning during a relapse – in a moment of particular loneliness — against my new practice of not looking at my phone before bed, I was moved by iPhone pictures of a poem in jubilat and have not been unmoved since. I printed out the photos of the print poem despite the irony of my layers of separation to it and taped it to the wall above my bed. On the nights on this campus when I feel particularly isolated, I read and re-read it and feel like I am someone new with each re-reading; reading poetry becomes the easiest and, in some ways, most difficult way of convincing myself that my life can be altered while the routine of my everyday can become so repetitive as to feel static.
This poem, written by Chessy Normile and called “My Life So Far,” was initially tweeted by contemporary poet Elisa Gabbert and probably retweeted by contemporary poet Kaveh Akbar, whom I follow and whose postings I read unfailingly and hungered. In fact, above the dark irony and memes and cute humor that fills the rest of my timeline, I now primarily use Twitter as a platform for reading these haphazard poems which I probably wouldn’t have stumbled upon elsewhere. Social media, which typically causes me more anxiety than enjoyment, becomes transformative for me when used in this way — when I can read poems posted by poets I have never met and feel more removed from the world than when I entered it.
Of course, the transfer of poetry through media designed to be instant and easily digestible has its problems, although I think the heightened accessibility to poetry that social media has provided is ultimately a beautiful and refreshing innovation. But besides the apparent conflict between the inherent natures of poetry and social media, one being slow and solitary and internal and the other being instant and infinitely connected, the sharing of discrete poems in this manner also has its contextual limitations. A couple months ago, I read a screenshot of a William Brewer poem called “Today I Took You to Our Oxyana High School Reunion” on Twitter; only after reading the collection in which the poem is found, I Know Your Kind, and when Brewer visited my poetry class a couple weeks ago did I realize the dimension that I had missed the first time: the poem’s world being all the other poems of “I Know Your Kind,” a collection that explores and relates the experiences of those inflicted by the opioid crisis in West Virginia. Over Twitter I had missed the context of Brewer’s poetic voice, of the poems around it which speak to it and to which it responds.
Acknowledging these kinds of limitations, and appreciating the endless potential to be moved by a poem shared on social media, here are five poems I’ve read on Twitter recently that altered my way of seeing the world, at least for that moment.
- “My Life So Far,” Chessy Normile: Normile’s use of erasure, self-questioning, casual and formal language and associative organization all converge in this poem that utterly destroys me every time I read it. “Do you have to let go of everything to grow up?” the speaker asks. “How about just most of it?”
- “Untitled,” Rachel McKibbens: McKibbens’ speaker addresses her daughters, praying to and for the Last Love which will finish them. Finding something so blessed and divine as such a complete love then becomes something that ultimately strengthens the self in the poem’s final lines: “Last Love, I am all that is left. Amen. / I am all that is left. / Amen.”
- “Morning,” Chu Shu Chen: Contemporary poet Kaveh Akbar (who serves as my primary circulator of Twitter poetry) had been posting poems about plums, inspired by William Carlos Williams. I probably would never have stumbled upon such a gem by a 13th-century Chinese poet otherwise.
- “A Small Needful Fact,” Ross Gay: From Ashon Crawley, who posted the original tweet: “Ross Gay’s ‘A Small Needful Fact’ is one of the most beautifully terrible poems i’ve ever read. i return to it often.” Every time this poem returns to my timeline it never fails to shock me.
- “American Dream,” Emily Jungmin Yoon: Yoon writes of a quiet bodily violence that haunts questions of interracial love, motherhood and cultural preservation. “She never meant for me to become a Westerner—” the speaker writes of her mother, “she’s afraid of losing me to a foreigner, being unable to speak / to her future grandchildren.”
Contact Maddie Kim at mkim16 ‘at’ stanford.edu.