Selfies with the Moon was born out of a level of friction I encountered with poetry in the digital age. The fatigue I felt reading a poem on a digital screen made me want to find a way to produce a poem that worked online. For me, it’s not enough to overlay the text of a poem on an image. Image macro poems feel disingenuous, heavy handed, limited, and forced. There’s a way the text is always independent of the image and vice versa. By inverting it, by taking a photo of the text, it mitigates the discrepancy between poem and image.
I began investigating what the selfie was, both on an aesthetic and communicative level. It’s a photograph that has a kind of craft and engages in specific tropes (the arm outstretched, the angle of the camera generally hanging from above its subject) and attempts to convey a level of immediacy, even authenticity.
The way I’ve been shooting the poems still sitting in the typewriter is both a nod to the photographer’s arm and to foreground the method of the production. The selfie-taker’s arm suggests that subject and producer are one in the same. The only thing absent is the camera. Here, the typewriter, the page, any scratched out pen marks, all try to point to the medium as producer and subject in one.
Moreover, I think of a selfie as a kind of status update, a quick burst of information with little room for nuance. It affords humor and parody, but doesn’t necessarily beg for a close reading. Given that and the limitations of the size of an Instagram photo (more on that later), the poems themselves have to be short, punchy, and to the point. They have to be disposable.
As a medium, Instagram isn’t meant to function narratively. Its limited mobile (and browser) interface keeps one from getting enchanted by an image. Instagram photos, despite the fact that a user’s profile page acts as an archive, are ephemeral. They show up in your feed, you like them, you comment, and then they may as well disappear, pushed down and replaced by new images from other users. I was thinking a lot of about Crary and constant consumption when I considered how these poems should look.
The language has to be economical. People scroll past images without a second thought. If you want anyone to read the work, it has to provide a temporary burst of pleasure. People do post long and difficult poems on Instagram—but the longer they get, the smaller the typeface, the harder it is to read. I don’t have the patience or willingness to process them, especially in an image macro. SWTM’s poems are designed for the aid of readability and for the benefit of the attention economy.
As for why the typewriter—I could have easily just taken screenshots from a word processing program—it came out of my experiments with them in the lab and at home. The inability to hide corrections (any I’ve made are present in the photos), made whatever I typed feel immediate. There was no tinkering, no hovering over the backspace key. What happened on the page was the poem. No going back.
I haven’t finished a critical apparatus around the project yet, but it will probably throw in bits of Benjamin, Crary, the Dickinson, and Writing Surfaces.