What Are #selfieswithpoetry?
Everything has an origin story, & in an unlikely way, the backstory of #selfieswithpoetry is something of an ars poetica. As you might guess from the hashtag, #selfieswithpoetry began on social media—ironically, on Facebook, a platform I no longer use. But because the internet is leviathan & immortal, I was able to go back through archives & pinpoint the first time I used it with a book of poetry. Why? I’ll be honest, at first it was just kind of a silly lark for me: like many people, I like taking selfies, & I like poetry, so why not make it a Reese’s cup & combine two things I love into one? As far back as I can trace it, I’ve been using the #selfieswithpoetry hashtag intermittently over the past eight or nine years. The first documentation I can find of it is dated 2010, with the Edward Gorey book The Blue Aspic.
In one of my recently published poems, I write, “…my depression poem likes to get dressed up & Instagram a selfie every day/ because it’s the only way we can think of to prove we’re still here.” In a digital world that both demands you commodify yourself as a brand & then vilifies you as a narcissist for doing exactly that, selfies can be empowering or destructive. As I went through my archives for this initial post, I found myself on a wild voyage of feelings, watching my weight, hair color, hairstyle, clothing, and home change over eight years—while at the same time feeling pride in how my literary taste grew & evolved over that same period of time. So in a way, #selfieswithpoetry is a means of allowing someone a glimpse at your interiority, through your exteriority.
I also started taking #selfieswithpoetry because every year or so, some big-name publication does a think-piece on The Future of Poetry—it’s either dying, or it isn’t; Millenials are killing poetry, or they’re saving it; people aren’t reading poetry anymore, or Poetry Movement X is here to save Capital-P Poetry. There’s access to poets & poetry that was unheard of, even a decade ago (I can tweet at my favorite poets…and they might answer me?) With that in mind, I thought that it would be sort of cheeky to post fairly-frequent #selfieswithpoetry, showcasing that you can, in fact, care about something shallow and something deep at the same time, since modern media seems to believe that if you take selfies, you couldn’t possibly care about the arts, not really, because you’re clearly narcissistic & shallow.
Does a book of poetry become more interesting if you can see the person who’s reading it? Does a selfie become less shallow because there’s a book of poetry in it? I can’t say for sure, but in today’s digitally-driven world, the answer to both might be maybe.
#selfieswithpoetry Matters in Ways You Might Not Expect
There’s one other reason I started doing #selfieswithpoetry, & it’s one that I think of every time I post one. At AWP Seattle (2014), I was seated behind a fairly high-profile popular male poet, who I had been really excited to meet. Like, really excited. And seated in front of him at this reading were two female poets, who before the reading began, took a selfie together. This is nothing out of the ordinary at AWP—where writers who rarely see one another, know each other from the digital world alone, are meeting their mentors or poetry idols, or who are reuniting from MFA programs, fellowships, or other writers conventions—often joyfully document their delight at being able to be together, in the company of other writers. This male poet, who up until that very moment I had admired so much, leaned over to the (also male, also high-profile, also popular) poet seated beside him, & whispered, “God, I hate how shallow girls are, taking selfies all the time.” I was shattered. This Woke Poet™ was targeting specifically female-identified writers as shallow—for the sin of taking selfies. Stripping them of their writerhood, their adulthood, & their professional accomplishments. Girls, he said—not women, not writers, not professors, not peers, not editors, not poets—are shallow for doing the thing that:
- Modern American culture pressures them to do and
- Many, many other writers—of all gender identities & expressions—were doing at AWP.
Not every time, but many times I take a selfie, I hear that poet—whose work I still admire, (because feelings are complicated & don’t always make sense)—judging me for my vanity, my shallowness, reminding me that I will never be a Serious Poet™ because I am a silly girl who takes selfies. So I take #selfieswithpoetry as a small, simple Fuck You to that way of thinking, to lay claim to my right to be both silly AND serious, because we all know the Whitman quote, “I am large/ and I contain multitudes.”
What You Can Expect from #selfieswithpoetry
I will be upfront & say that since I finished my MFA & no one can make me read The Canon anymore, I opt not to. We are kicking off this series during #SeptWomenPoets, & it is safe to say that in this series, the balance will skew away from cis/white/male poets. Which is not to say that they won’t ever make an appearance; they just have to work a little harder to get my attention. Every selfie will be accompanied by a microreview of the book, my favorite poem from the collection, & social media connections where possible, & purchase information, since lots of the poetry books I read come from small presses, or are self-published & can only be purchased directly from the poets, rather than bought on Amazon (which is ok too, you do you, no judgements!) Up until now, it’s been a hashtag that only myself & a few friends have been using. I hope that if you like the idea, that you’ll start using it, too—it’s a small way for writers to actually see their audience, to know that their books matter (& are loved) & you never know how your #selfieswithpoetry post might create a ripple effect for the writer. It’s an easy way to help the writers whose work you love find their audience, & isn’t that one of the most magical things that poetry can do?
Allie Marini is a cross-genre Southern writer. In addition to her work on the page, Allie was a 2017 Oakland Poetry Slam team member & writes poetry, fiction, essays, performing in the Bay Area, where as a native Floridian, she is always cold. Find her online: www.alliemarini.com or @kiddeternity.