A Case for Staying Online (And Reading More Poetry) by Kirby Knowlton

A poem in the form of status updates sounds like it would read as gimmicky, as if the writer was trying to compensate for hours of procrastination online by using Facebook as inspiration. But Rebecca Lindenberg’s poem “Status Update” is not her taking the easy way out. It’s not cheesy, or flashy, or unintelligent. With lines like, “Rebecca Lindenberg likes poems that don’t necessarily sound sincere but really are,” the poem is distinctly aware of itself and especially of its form, giving it the opportunity to poke fun at some points and reveal truths at others. “Status Update” is a poem I often think about because I think it challenges us to reconsider what deserves to be the subject of poetry, a question that I ask myself every day. I tweet a lot. I tweet some very dumb stuff, but also tiny ideas or observations I have. Wondering what is or isn’t worth sharing makes me very anxious sometimes, to the point where I’ll go back and delete the last five things I said. It seems silly to keep up such a habit if it makes me overthink things so often, but the point is that I’m thinking. Status updates are thoughts, but also fodder for thoughts. Scroll down your newsfeed and what do you see? People’s new babies, new houses, new opinions about the latest current events. Pieces of people’s lives. The things they thought were worth writing down. Is that not the stuff of poetry?

Like with any status update, there’s a narcissistic quality to Lindenberg’s poem. But “Rebecca Lindenberg thinks of poetry as the practice of overhearing yourself.” She arranges these declarations about herself as if they’re observations she picked up elsewhere, considering language and musicality to elevate them from just status updates to poetry. The use of Facebook vocabulary works to her advantage in this. Compare the line “Would like to add you as a friend” to “Loves the smell of dirt gathering in water and the sleep-smell of your morning body.” The two sentiments aren’t that different if you pay attention, if you let yourself overhear the first line to become the interpretation of the second.

Her decision to use this form is braver than it originally appears. She is deciding that the minutiae people share is an important contribution to the world, that the insignificant creates a bigger picture. For as long as it has existed, poetry has been bridging the gaps between people. From writer to reader, reader to another reader, poetry is the written proof of people trying to connect. The medium has changed, but when we post online asking strangers if anyone else loves this, that, or the other, we’re not so different from Walt Whitman calling out to the Americans of the future in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” We’ve all seen the status updates of a user begging for attention, a human connection. Is it any less sincere because it was written online instead of in a book? “Rebecca Lindenberg is lonesome. Is keeping lonesomeness at bay with frequent status updates designed to elicit a thumbs-up icon from you.” We’re all reaching, hoping something will take.

Read the full poem here: http://www.theoffendingadam.com/2011/04/04/status-update-dispatches-from-an-unfinished-world-status-update-2/


Kirby Knowlton was a Jasper intern for the 2014-2015 year and is a rising sophomore at USC.