Poems at the Bottom of Internet Rabbit Holes
By Rachelle Toarmino | Friday, April 9, 2021
By Rachelle Toarmino
Friday, April 9, 2021
So many of my poems begin with something I see or overhear when I’m out in the waking, working world—but my experience of that world has been severely restricted since early 2020. As we shelter in place and shift our experiences of work and play online, where encounters are predetermined and continuously fine-tuned by algorithms, how can we find the spontaneity we need to make poems from our everyday lives? I’ve found that it’s possible to experience surprise online, but doing so has required learning how to “get lost” in new ways. Below are five prompts to get you thinking about how the internet rabbit hole—something we all know—can replicate the freshness and chance of a meandering walk IRL. We will discuss these techniques and others at my writing lab, “Everyday Writing and Sheltering in Place.”
1. Erase the news.
The news is overwhelming. It’s out of our control, constantly changing, and only ever seems to get worse. That’s why I loved it when poet Jamie Mortara launched the Instagram account @cnnpoems, where they post screenshots of CNN headlines they’ve blacked out and erased into poems. For this prompt, head to the news source of your choice, take a screenshot of its chyrons or headlines, and black out parts of the text until you get an erasure poem of your own.
2. Stalk celebrities.
I find American celebrity culture wild and absurd. (Note: Always follow the things you find wild and absurd.) For this prompt, steal language from what celebrities post on social media—tweets, Instagram captions, hashtags, and more—and rearrange the words until you land on a short poem. For inspiration, check out “Yes this night was a dream” by Melissa Lozada-Oliva for a found poem made from Britney Spears’s Instagram captions or these four poems I made using the text found on clothing worn by celebrities in paparazzi photos.
3. Ask some questions.
First, use Yahoo! Answers to search for a word like ghost or weather. Then, select the question that most interests you, save your favorite answer, and ask a new question related to the answer. Repeat this exercise until you’ve gathered enough language for a poem. For inspiration, check out "Top Answers," a poem I made by searching for questions that include the words cry, voice, scream, and others. (Note: The poem does not need to resolve your questions; it merely needs to capture and explore them.)
4. Repeat yourself.
Have you noticed that you often rely on certain words, phrases, or expressions in your writing? For this prompt, search your social media posts, text messages, and emails for those words or phrases and construct a poem using the content you find. For inspiration, check out these poems Sasha Debevec-McKenney made by searching her Twitter history for the words “summer” and “literally.”
5. Alphabetize your most private thoughts.
First, read “From My Diaries (2006–10) in Alphabetical Order” by Sheila Heti. Then, type up some pages from your diary, copy and paste them into an excel sheet, and alphabetize them. What patterns do you notice? What happens when you rearrange them according to the alphabet?
Dive further into the world wide writer's web with Rachelle's Writing Lab "Everyday Writing and Sheltering in Place", and learn all about shifts and surprises in her Craft Session, "The Turn".