Poetry + Technology = ?

This article on technology in fiction led me to start thinking about the use or lack of technology in my poetry. The gist of the article is that while the language of technology may be awkward to work with in writing (doubly true for poetry), its absence can be glaring. “If your characters aren’t going to use it they still need to acknowledge it. Because either way, it’s going to affect them: they are alive and in love in the Twenty-First Century.”

Would characters who spend as much time as I do staring at the computer be remotely interesting? Probably not, though it’s an interesting challenge to contemplate. (Though there is writing that lives in social media, like Twitter fiction that’s told through tweets by the characters.) But, as the article suggests, the idea of contemporary characters seemingly living in a world without computers is absurd.

Nothing in my first book (coming out in November) mentions post-Internet technology (except one computer appearance in “Zero”—a poem completed later than most of the others, a character exploration that isn’t much like the rest of the collection). It wasn’t intentional, but I think it’s good that I didn’t tackle that challenge in my freshman effort. I doubt I would have passed the challenge then. Also, I finished the main draft of the book in 2006, before the iPhone existed and before social media was quite ubiquitous. Looking back, I think post-Internet tech just wasn’t ingrained enough in my daily life to flow naturally in that book the way, say, cars and cigarettes do.

My second book, a verse novel, does have a lot of TV and movies in it. (It even has a hologram museum that ceased to exist many years ago.) The protagonist works in a video store and one of the main characters is a major movie buff, so that sort of tech is integral to plot, characterization and setting. Still, looking back on the book in this new light, I have to wonder where everyone’s smart phones are. Jeremy sure seems like the kind of guy who’d update his iPhone to every version since the first one. I completed the skeleton of the book in 2003, but I could have thrown that in when I heavily revised and rewrote in 2008. Now do I write an iPhone into the story? Oi. At least it’s an excuse to splurge on yet another gadget.

My third book (in progress) contains a bit more tech than the previous books. Poems refer to a camera, a profile pic, and iPad Scrabble. As integral as computers and the Internet have become in my life, it isn’t really reflected in my poems more than sporadically. Even as I write this, I’m chatting with my partner in Google+ and periodically checking Facebook, Twitter and email. And I’ve had some serious chats with my partner, definitely chats worthy of poetry.

But Internet communication is sensually deprived—sight only, or sometimes sound, but never touch, taste or smell, unless you count the plastic resistance of the keys as you type. There, to me, is where the real challenge lies. After Jeremy buys Kavi an iPhone in the verse novel, how will I make their text messages sing? How will I make 2-D text convey 3-D feeling? Then again, that’s always a challenge in writing.

If you’re writing with technology—and nature—check out this call for submissions.