Sunday, 29 January 2006

Typd w/ 1 thumb

A year and a bit ago, on the blog I run for my online writing community, Caferati, we ran a jokey contest, the world’s first SMS Poetry contest. The prizes weren’t KBC-class. - just free Gmail IDs, quite in demand at that time. The world didn’t break down our door, but many of us began playing with the challenges of the form.

Then, last January, the Kala Ghoda festival featured an SMS Poetry contest, also billed as the first in the world. While it got more responses and coverage than my wee contest did, pangs of envy were assuaged by Caferati members winning the top three prizes.

Now, having established my guru/seer credentials, I will now waffle on a bit about the form.

But first, disclosure. I have since discovered that both the Kala Ghoda festival and Caferati were wrong. The first SMS Poetry contest was run way back in 2001, by the Guardian, in the UK.

Right. Moving on...

SMS poetry is verse short enough to fit into the 160-character space that cellphone standards for text messages support. No, technological advances like multi-part SMSes that permit messages three times that length are not considered kosher by the purists.

Scratch that. “Purists” might give you the wrong impression. If there’s one thing this verse form doesn’t do, it’s delight that breed.

You see, it isn’t just the very short, more established forms like haiku and senryu, limericks, clerihews and grooks that find their way here. SMS verse creates a space very much its own. The cre8v contractions, abrevs, & delibr8 misspelngs dat help U cram much mo in2 a text msg, there4 gettng mo bang for yr buck (or two rupees for out-station messages, five for international) are not just permitted they’re practically de rigeur. And no, it’s not just dropping vowels. That’s for wussies. Tricks like no space after punctuation,using numerals to replace syllables that sound like them (42n8 for fortunate), a capital letter when you want the sound pronounced (QT for cutie), accepted short forms like w/ for with, and acronyms borrowed from online chat (BRB for be right back) all add to the delightful mix. And you’re helped along significantly by the illogical spelling that English is notorious for. Just spell ’em the way they’re pronounced: like gud for good and nyt for night.

A wonderful example is the poem that won the Guardian competition:
txtin iz messin,
mi headn'me englis,
try2rite essays,
they all come out txtis.
gran not plsed w/letters shes getn,
swears i wrote better
b4 comin2uni.
&she's african
SMS, and SMS poetry, may not be advancing the language. But they certainly stretch your creativity, and they’re fun. And hey, they’re better than corny SMS jokes.

Oh yes. One more thing. Mr Moraes, please forgive me for that title.

Peter Griffin co-moderates the online writing community, Caferati, which is helping the Times of India Kala Ghoda Arts Festival run two contests in the Literature and Writing section this year: Flash Fiction and SMS Poetry. See for details.

Published in the 29th January edition of Times of India, in the Bookmark section.

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