Arizona poets spreading the word on social media

Christopher Owens, professional poet, writes a new poem in his apartment complex in Phoenix, Ariz. on Tuesday, May 5, 2015. One line from his new poem is, "You're not promised tomorrow/ but instead of trying to slam dunk/ most of us would rather fade away. Photo by Rebecca Marie Sasnett / Arizona Sonora News Service
Christopher Owens, professional poet, writes a new poem in his apartment complex in Phoenix, Ariz. on Tuesday, May 5, 2015. One line from his new poem is, “You’re not promised tomorrow/ but instead of trying to slam dunk/ most of us would rather fade away. Photo by Rebecca Marie Sasnett / Arizona Sonora News Service

Arizona poets are taking to YouTube, Twitter and Pinterest to share their work with fans.

Instant access to poetry via social media has been a “game changer,” said Christopher Owens, a poet from Phoenix known online as “Truth B. Told.”

Owens, who is most active on YouTube, said social media instantly creates a larger audience because the work can be seen by anyone around the world.

“Social media helps expand the brand of an artist,” he said. “Social media gives people a plethora of artists from which to draw inspiration. Devices make poetry interactive.”

Owens’ audience has grown to the point where it is not uncommon for Owens to be recognized on the street. His most viewed YouTube Video has 45,000 views. He has yet to meet a poet who does not at least have a Facebook page.

Owens uses the comments on his YouTube Channel for encouragement, fuel and confirmation that his work is appreciated. Comments for Truth B. Told are generally 95 percent positive.

“Every comment is something that sticks with me,” Owens said. “Still, there is nothing like interacting with a live audience.”

Teré Fowler-Chapman, executive director of the Tucson Poetry Festival, has seen the online world spark collaborations between musicians and poets.

“Heavy, amazing lyrics resonate with prose,” Fowler-Chapman said.

The Tucson Poetry Festival is relying more on word-of-mouth for advertising than ever before since the festival started 32 years ago. Word-of-mouth today is based on social media and the festival uses fewer fliers.

Phoenix, Arizona social media poet Christopher Owens regularly posts on his Twitter account. Photo by Rebecca Marie Sasnett / Arizona Sonora News Service
Phoenix, Arizona social media poet Christopher Owens regularly posts on his Twitter account. Photo by Rebecca Marie Sasnett / Arizona Sonora News Service

 Fowler-Chapman is a fan of Twitter as a form of poetry.

“I’m 26 years old and all about the character count,” Fowler-Chapman said. “It’s not easy to do.”

Isaac Kirkman, a poet from Tucson, develops a following through using the #PoetsOfInstagram hashtag on the picture-sharing app Instagram.

Kirkman writes for people who have lost their lives that can no longer speak, he said. His older brother, a writer and journalist, passed away in 2009 from an Aortic Aneurism.

“Poetry is like flower petals floating across the Internet,” he said.

Social media allows Kirkman to share horrible information about gang violence in a way that does not scare people away, he said. Poetry is an important form of activism, he said.

“It is an instrument against evil.”

Carol Hogan, President of the Arizona State Poetry Society, is a supporter of social media poetry.

“I want people to taste it and find out that poetry is good for you inside and out,” Hogan said.

Every author has written poetry, Hogan said. Today many writers have adopted Twitter poetry as a way to get a taste of their work to the public and build their audience.

“There are creative minds everywhere,” Hogan said. “The average person out there working their ass off doesn’t realize they can write.”

Fady Joudah, a poet from Austin, Texas founded “Textu” poetry, which is limited to 160 characters, the same length as a text message.

“Textu reclaims language from disintegration in our fast paced emoji lives,” Joudah said. “It is a resistance to society.”

Smart phone users do not realize they are being limited, Joudah said. Computer engineers tell society how to communicate and short-form is imposed on society in the form of character counts. As a poet he must struggle against the machinery, Joudah said.

“Our lives are constructed for us by social media in the digital age.”

Now poets have made writing on Twitter an art form, he said.

“Younger generations, especially high school students are excited about it,” Joudah said.

According to Tyler Meier, executive director of the University of Arizona Poetry Center, writing poetry spans all media.

“People connect in different ways and there are lots of ways to participate,” Meier said. “There is a mix of supporters, from students to seniors.”

Social media connects the poetry community and allows for an increased amount of digital elements including music and film, he said.

“Today there is more of a conversation about poetry,” Meier said. “Poetry is adapting to the new way that we interact with each other.”

Erin Shanahan is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service with the University of Arizona. Contact her at erinshanahan@email.arizona.edu

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