Joel Dueck ·

Share poems like memes

A poem is an antique form of meme, a highly stylized meme. By an accident of history it currently sits trapped in the amber of copyright and publishing mores. If you wanted to publish your own collection of favorite poems, you might expect some disapproval. But you should do it anyways because poems are just memes. You can tell, because they accomplish the same thing:

“Lowell fell into more laughter at the idea of being inspired by his own poetry, but in truth, he was. Why shouldn’t he be? The proof of poetry was, in Lowell’s mind, that it reduced to the essence of a single line the vague philosophy that floated in all mens’ minds, so as to render it portable and useful, ready to hand.”

—Matthew Pearl, The Dante Club

This is exactly the function of the modern meme, which is an inherently poetic construct. A meme is vibe and specific commentary, boiled and bottled like Screech into a form that is quickly ingested, understood — and shared.

This last point is extremely important. Poems and modern memes, both, are fundamentally group cognitive technologies. Exactly half of the enjoyment, half of the use of the thing, comes in sharing the experience once you’ve had it yourself.

Which makes the single biggest difference between the uses of poetry and memes seem very strange: poems are guarded, copyrighted authorial possessions, and memes never are. When did you last see copyright asserted on a meme? When have you seen someone officiously accusing another person of “reposting” a meme, as though they were doing wrong by the original creator and stealing credit for themselves? Never. Who would gain by imposing this kind of friction into the mimetic economy? Everyone would hate it.

The internet-age meme has always been recognized as and treated as what it is: a thing properly owned by the entire Graph Mind, and not the individual.

And poetry, too, has been communal property for most of its history, until only a couple of lifetimes ago! But then, for a brief while, good poetry (and tulips) had immense market value, and this made ownership important.

The market has had its fun with poetry, though, and left it behind. The market value of any set of it is statistically ≈ $0.00 no matter how good it is. Poetry is not a trade; it is not painting, photography, or flower arranging. There are no $ to be lost by freeing up poems just as no one loses $ by not being able to sell memes. If it is any good, it should be allowed to infect as many people as possible; locking it in a print quarterly can only do harm.

Poetry is properly owned by the entire Graph Mind and not the individual. We can restore the role of poetry if we all just agree to classify it in the same sharing permissions scheme that we already intuitively use for all other memes.