By Chelsea Haith
An American indie literary movement self-styled ‘Alt Lit’ is doing something a little bit differently. They’re using the internet to change how we think about and interpret poetry.
Alongside the blog-style candour of their prose-writing counterparts, Alt Lit poets are using image macros to communicate visually as well as verbally.
Simply put, an image macro is text layered over an image, often, though not always, a moving image.
For this reason, some of the poetry being produced by the likes of The Mall editor Angela Shier and Internet Poetry editor Michael Hessel-Mial cannot be read or published in a physical form like a book, or printed on paper.
It is the poetry of the internet.
This Alt Lit poetry style entails supplementing words with clips from common internet sites, memes or GIFs that support the poetry.
GIF stands for Graphic Interchange Format and in this context refers to a moment or two of silent film from an iconic television show or movie.
The image plays on a continuous loop and is usually captioned with the words spoken by the character in the clip.
These GIFs are often used to make social commentary and are usually humorous in intention.
Now using GIFs, memes and even the Google Searchbar to write poetry, poets are able to say more than words usually allow.
Image macros is essentially a new poetic form, rather than a genre, and allows for multiple interpretations of the written words layered over the moving image or meme.
This plurality of interpretations stems from the different meanings and references different people take from popular culture and the internet.
This in turn adds a layer of understanding to the already complex project of decoding poetry.
Looking to the internet for meaning-making might seem like the end for many poetry purists.
But then again, William Blake was doing something not all together dissimilar with his ‘illuminated writing’ in the 17th century.
He just didn’t have the internet.
This article was originally published in Grocott’s Mail on 27 March