With Twitter in the news a lot lately, and having been an avid Twitter-botherer for the last decade or so, I thought now might be a good time to share some reflections regarding my experience of the platform. These reflections are personal, but they might nonetheless be relatable to those of my fellow poets who are on social media.
For me, Twitter has been an indispensable way of making connections with other poets, as well as with teachers and other educators. As a consequence of this, I have been able to develop my network of contacts, and to get a good deal of paid work. As an introvert, Twitter has also been an extremely useful way of putting myself ‘out there’ in a way that feels manageable to me, and in a way that I wouldn’t be able to do in a room full of actual, physical people. It has given me the chance to say what I want to say, and also to delete it a few moments later. One can’t do that at a party!
Twitter has also been a highly useful way of garnering an audience for my poems. If I write a poem that I deem to be half decent, I will stick it on Twitter and see what kind of reception it gets. The level of response can be a useful barometer for whether or not a poem actually is any good, and can thus serve as a kind of informal feedback. Many poets might justifiably be hesitant to give their work away for free, but I look at it as being akin to a free sample, like those mini blocks of cheese with cocktail sticks you get at the supermarket – if someone likes a poem, they might be more likely to go and buy some of my books.
However, there is definitely a sinister side to social media, and as a poet this affects me in both a personal and professional capacity. Twitter is a great way of putting myself in the shop window, but sometimes it seems as though tweeting, and accruing likes and retweets, is the driving force behind the production of the poems. I can find myself writing with one eye on producing good work, but with the other eye keenly on how and when to put it out on the socials. I sometimes fall into the trap of measuring my self worth in terms of what kind of response my work gets, and if a piece doesn’t get the reception I think it ‘deserves’, well, I don’t lose sleep but it can often be a huge downer. One time I wrote a poem that, for personal reasons, I knew I could never put online at all. This almost made the poem feel worthless, which of course should not be the case.
There is also the dangerously addictive dopamine hit whenever someone follows me, or whenever a poem does get a response. This feels good, but is it a substitute for a real, physical social interaction? Is it as useful as actual money in the bank? Of course not. But sometimes social media can make it feel as though it is. It has the tendency to warp our perception of reality, and if we are not careful we may find ourselves living in a simulacrum.
What advice would I give to fellow poets, then? I would say to embrace social media (I use Twitter mainly, but obviously there are many options) but with extreme caution, lest your social, spiritual and creative wellbeing suffer.
Joshua Seigal is an internationally renowned poet, performer and educator. His first book with Bloomsbury, I Don’t Like Poetry, was nominated for the Laugh Out Loud Book Awards in 2017, an award Joshua subsequently won in 2020. Joshua was also the recipient of The People’s Book Prize in 2022, and has performed at schools and festivals around the world
Please visit his website: www.joshuaseigal.co.uk, and FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER: @joshuaseigal