Digital Horizons II. – Online Popularization of Poetry, Part 2 by Laszlo Szabolcs

The second project is called InstaVers and it is an Instagram-inspired initiative which aims to present and popularize contemporary poetic texts on the internet through social media. The project was started by Dóri Kele on April 11, 2014, the Day of Poetry in Hungary, and presently the site has 6,000 page likes on Facebook, several branded merchandise, and the creating team is present at most literary events, festivals, or camps. InstaVers consists of carefully chosen, linguistically and conceptually powerful quotations from the works of contemporary poets which are then “pimped up”: that is, placed in a personalized visual setting, an ambiance of color and decoration that, in the eyes of the bloggers, fits the text in mood and symbolism.

The idea and hope behind this format is that the visually depicted quotation will have an instant effect on those who encounter it: the text will dissolve instantly in the imagination of the reader, like coffee powder does in hot water or, why not, an instantly gratifying drug in your blood. Thanks to the care applied to the selection, the textual images actually hit you like a shot of double espresso: once read, you inevitably wake up, and your mind starts to reel. The fragments get lodged both in your personal memory, and also in the digital memory of your devices, saved as profile covers or desktop and smartphone backgrounds, etc. Besides the primary aim of popularizing literature, the blog reveals that—if presented in an internet-friendly format and through the appropriate channels—even the “obscure” items of contemporary literature can become, once again, elementary parts of our daily lives. As the creator of the project stated: she wanted to show that poetry is at least as important to her own younger generation as it was for previous generations. And the success of this initiative, born as a reaction to the post-poetry-book era, reminds one of the success of a similar endeavor in the pre-poetry-book era: 19th century poetry albums and copybooks compiled by young ladies or gentlemen, and circulated by a more literal, physical sharing and copying.

The third project, initiated by Eszteranna Nagy, is entitled PoetVlog and as the name already suggests it is a YouTube blog which presents short video recordings of contemporary poets reciting one of their—supposedly favorite—poems. The idea is simple, useful, and effective while also highly enjoyable and fun. Moreover, despite its apparent simplicity and obviousness in an era when everyone has a vlog, from online gamers to politicians, it is a surprisingly, almost shockingly necessary endeavor that can at least start to address the alarming lack of accessible video archives of contemporary Hungarian literature from the past quarter century. The inspiration for the project came from the old radio recordings or televised readings by celebrated poets which are now all uploaded to YouTube and can be easily accessed for personal or even pedagogical use in the classroom. There is also a special dimension to these videos which can reveal a very personal connection between artist and work, opening up a whole array of impressions and information that go beyond the textual. Yet, as the creator of the blog points out, one cannot find such recordings of more recent poetry (even if they do exist, they are locked up in the offline archives of state TV or radio), which is quite puzzling since the low cost and availability of digital technology would make their execution incomparably easier. As such, this—temporarily unique, but hopefully trendsetter—vlog is fulfilling the roles of both popularizing and archiving important instances of contemporary Hungarian poetry.

The lessons to be taken away and examined from these three projects indicate that one way of popularizing literature online is by adapting the already successful tools available in the online realm: exploiting the possibilities offered by the directness and humor of internet memes; the various visual options and strong appeal of stylized digital images; and the free and easy means of self-expression and communication through videos. This way poetry can benefit from a much broader accessibility, opening up not just for those who buy the volume, and from an effective decentralization, reaching not just those who happen to live in the capital. As many predict, and can already be seen in some cases, the role of online behavior and the effect of social media on the creation, distribution, consumption, and canonization of literature, especially poetry, will be a main area of research in future literary scholarship. Will it be the “same” poetry? Hard to tell. The re-contextualization of literature will definitely change its social and cultural function, together with the look, the taste, the feel, and most certainly the meaning of artistic texts—but the inherent human need they address and react to will most likely stay the same.

By Laszlo Szabolcs

This blog was originally published on ELit Literature House Europe on 20 August 2015.

Category: ELit Literature House Europe Observatory


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