Going Viral, Part One

Matthew Sperling writes:

5 October 2013

I’ve had a twitter account for about a year now. In twitter terms, my follower count is woefully small – it’s roughly a fifth of the number that my colleague Grace Ioppolo has, for instance. Yet it’s larger than the print run of many academic books, or books of poetry, and recently I’ve found that my presence on twitter has given access to a potentially vast audience, in highly unpredictable ways.

            In mid-August I wrote a poem for the London fatberg, the fifteen-tonne lump of congealed fat that had been found in the drains under Kingston-on-Thames. Instead of following the usual route to publication – sending it out to a poetry magazine, waiting months to hear anything back, waiting even longer for it to appear – I decided to post it on my blog.

Matthew going viral

Within ten minutes of finishing the poem I had published it online, tweeted it out and posted a link on facebook. I must have chosen a good moment, at 3.30 on a Friday afternoon, because instantly it was being shared fairly widely around the internet. After a couple of hours the link had been retweeted by users who, between them, have tens of thousands of followers.

The most far-fetched sequel to this came in September, when Freda Lisgaras, a graduate student at La Trobe University in Victoria, Australia, asked me if I’d mind her using ‘Fatberg’ in a class she was conducting as part of her teaching practicum. The aim of the class was to explain allegory, image and metaphor to a group of Year 11 students in a rural high school who were studying Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. It was deeply gratifying, and somewhat disorienting, to think that the poem I had written in a quiet corner of the British Library less than a month earlier would now be read by a group of fifteen and sixteen year-olds, 10,000 miles away.

Freda shared some of their responses with me. One promising literary critic in the class insightfully grasped my attempt to make lyric out of linguistic excess, when he or she wrote: ‘Most descriptive, almost too much so. This makes one realise that many sources can contribute to a mighty deposit of refuse.’ Another, meanwhile, was more blunt: ‘Although well written, the poem was gross’.

Matthew gross poem


About Cindy

Associate Professor in the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading. Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
This entry was posted in Department of English Literature news and events and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.