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The Textual Revolution

15 November 07 words: James Walker
Generation Txt, Andrew Wilson and Sevenspiral lead the mobile revolution...

Whether you love it or hate it, the mobile phone has become an essential part of everyday living to the extent that even your grandparents have one. Okay, so they may have to sellotape numbers on the facia or are yet to work out how to download Vera Lynn as a ringtone, but they still have one.  Naturally, this has led to a variety of moral panics, of which texting has caused the greatest furore. On one level, texting is criticised as a cold factual form of communication which when used to inform of a dumping or redundancy is callousness in the extreme. For others, texting is seen as some kind of linguistic dystopia, further evidence of the dumbing-down process by which youth (and now the elderly) are eternally doomed. But wait! Before you throw your Nokia into the Trent, there is some good news. Research has found that texting is similar in construction to Chaucer’s olde English. Apparently, the brain is so sophisticated that it can read radnomly splet wrods as lnog as the fsrit and lsat lttrees are in the rihgt odrer.


It is perhaps of no surprise then that texting has been a motivating force, whether negatively or positively, for numerous publications. There are two collections in particular I would like to look at. The first is Text Messages by Andrew Wilson which features eighty nine poems, each, like the standard text message, no more than one hundred and sixty characters long. This was a gutsy move by publisher Smith/Doorstep, an imprint of the Poetry Business, as taking something as interactive as a text message to the static confines of the page was always going to be a risk.


Fortunately, Wilson crafts out some wonderfully poignant ‘messages’ which utilise the limitations of this art form to his advantage. A good example of this is ‘One for the Road’


In the station bar

gangs of girls meet for a night out.

Men in suits head home.

They don’t notice me

in the corner

missing train after train


The key to the success of this poem and others is in maximising all narrative devices to full effect, which Wilson does through a carefully chosen title which perhaps explains why the narrator is constantly missing his train. Yet it leaves some ambiguity as the carefully selected information he provides in this snapshot conjure up infinite possibilities. We begin to wonder why he is in no rush to go home and what has happened to make him observe rather than participate in life.


If I were to be harsh with this collection I would describe it as poor man’s Haiku. Top-up rather than a monthly contract, purely based on the lack of interactivity which the book form offers rather than a reflection on Wilson’s obvious talent. But I have included this collection as, having been published in 2003, it was way ahead of its time. Currently, the mobile phone has taken the short story and poem to other extremes and is becoming more multimedia. Sevenspiral, for example, are currently developing unique java applications to deliver accessible digital comics to readers, with a unique tool set and communication channel to involve them further in the action. Using the concept of kimazui kaiwa, ‘uncomfortable conversation’, they hope to define a new form of ‘comic texting’.


The mobile phone has always been promoted as offering mobile privitisation yet this is a little disingenuous as if anything, it allows constant access to consumers by marketing companies. There are currently numerous competitions taking advantage of this new art form which I don’t intend to promote here. Each entails texting in a 160 character poem but instead of paying twelve pence for the privilege it’s more like one pound. As always democratic participation depends upon how many pennies you have in the wallet and with X-Factor screaming for your attention, there’s not much left.


Generation TXT on the other hand have taken the negative effects of modern technology, the dumbed-down media and incomprehensible text-speak, as a platform from which to pour beauty onto the world. And boy do they do it. Having spent many hours in the bath, on buses and on park benches, I still cannot decide which extract to use, so impressed was I with the collection that I did not want to promote one author over another. So instead I politely request that readers check out the links below and listen to the podcasts and decide for themselves.


What I can tell you is that Generation TXT is a poetry collection from Penned in the Margins, a London based live literature organisation who work with musicians and live artists, poets and authors. The poets were hand-picked from a nationwide search for writing talent between 16 and 30 year olds and include, in no particular order, former Northern Young Writer of the Year Emma McGordon, celebrated performance poet Inua Ellams, Joe Dunthorne, whose debut novel Submarine has just been snapped up by Penguin, former Cambridge graduate Laura Forman, poetry, prose and screenplay writer Abigail Oborne and experimental poet and text artist James Wilkes.


The collection covers subjects as diverse as jellyfish, skinny-fit jeans, urban regeneration, tea smuggling and suicide. There is quite literally something for everyone, which probably explains why the six gifted young poets were able to back the book up with a national tour of fourteen venues. Although Nottingham was conspicuous by its absence we hope that the success of the tour will inspire them to hit the road again and take in our fine city.


To celebrate these two collections, please log on to the creative writing forum and start to upload your own poems, be it one hundred and sixty characters or one million. The best of which will be published in the next magazine. To get you going, here is an abbreviated extract from Emma McGordon’s brilliant ‘The Scary Thing About People Who Jump’


    The scary thing about somebody

    Jumping from the top of a tall building

    Is not the fall or the jump itself

    Or the rush of air that chokes

    Into being ha person’s last breath.

    It is not even the man, on his way to work,

    Who finds he seven body parts

    Spread across six paving stones.


     It is the look on their face as they choose

                                            Which coat to wear

                                            And it is the way they closed their blue front door

                                            Knowing that they had no need to take a key


Penned's website

Generation Txt on myspace

Poetry Business' website

Sevenspiral's website

James Walker's website


Vital Statistics


Title: Generation Txt
Editor: Tom Chivers
Publisher: Penned in the Margins 2006,

Pages: 78

Price: £6.99

ISBN: 0-9553846-1-3


Title: Text Messages

Author: Andrew Wilson

Publisher: Smith/Doorstep 2003

Pages: 96

Price: £5

ISBN: 190238251x



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