Aaron M. Moe

Assistant Professor of English at Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame

Literary #instaessays: Finding a Way

I am just starting to experiment in what could be called a literary #instaessay‬–a compelling genre full of possibility. I have written a couple poem-essays on some images from The Emily Dickinson Archive. I am interested in what opens up in terms of circulation (and rhetorical velocity) when we have students (and when we) do work in online spaces. I never had an instragram account before, but the chance to write on Dickinson in this venue was enough of a siren-song to get me to start.

Though I have only written three so far, I find that the genre places pressure (in a productive way) on the writing process. One only has around 2,200 characters. Things feel compressed, and rushed, but it also adds an energy to the writing because of the compression. The limited space pushes the writing toward the poetic in (it is hoped) positive ways.

Why do this? Though it is, perhaps, wiser to put energy into traditional publication venues (books, literary journals)–and though traditional publication, in the long run, has a longer arc of circulation–the immediate and effervescent energy of the #instaessay contributes momentum in the here and now. Enough people despise poetry already (and perhaps these short works will contribute to the general “ugggghhhh” some people feel about poetry. Perhaps, though, this nontraditional approach may raise an eyebrow or two by people who think they don’t get it.

Moreover, as we are in the infancy of digital writing, this kind of experimentation helps branch into what is possible. Engagement with poetry NEED NOT always be through a standard essay. Some people cling to print technology without even knowing it. Who knows? Maybe engaging poetry on social media sites will be the standard approach in fifty years.

The images below, from the archive, display Dickinson’s own hand.

Melville, too, spoke of a “weaver-god” and gaped at the question “whither flows the fabric— . . .” Here, at the beginning of the first year of 200+ poems, you marvel at the “Weaver.” Who else is there to blame for your obsession with making, with the energy of language, with the surprise of a sudden dragon. You say this is “notelessly . . . made”—but your handwriting suggests otherwise. The slash of a *t* seems to take flight, becoming one of your inscrutable dashes. Such etchings suggest a rhythm: scrape of cursive, staccato of slash, dash, and dot. Even now that “italic Seed” you write about in a couple of years has crept its roots into the folds of your brain. This thread “bewilder[s]”—and we have you to thank for helping us see how a mundane thread can be the source for poetic breakthrough. #poem306 #emilydickinsonarchive #proteanenergy #italicseed #mobydick #weavergod #proteus #instaessay

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You wrote “This is a Blossom of the Brain” in 1865, near the end of a year when you crafted 229 poems into a more-or-less “finalized” state. In two previous years, you wrote in a similar fashion of furious energy—four to five poems a week. Poem after poem attesting to your wakefulness. I cannot not see the *Blossom of the Brain* to be this surge of creative energy, all emerging out of “A small – italic Seed.” I imagine the italics of language—every swirl and swoosh of letter—to be the root-hairs of this seed taking root in consciousness. Perhaps the most compelling seeds are the ones not by “Design” but by “Happening,” those lucky finds that disrupt the order of consciousness and open up some new line of inquiry. But I think that this is also a tenuous grappling to try to name something inscrutable in language, in consciousness—that energy that cannot not *Blossom* into 229 poems in one year. You give us in two words a way of thinking about the mystery of the originary energy of the creative act. This “italic Seed” is no other than a glimpse of the agency of (what Hyde calls) a polytropic trickster intelligence. Proteus made Word. #poem1112 #emilydickinsonarchive #digitalhumanities #trickstermakesthisworld #proteanenergy #instaessay

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