In case you missed the simple pleasure that was the #derangedpoetess hashtag kicking about on Twitter, I shall briefly summarise. Last week, a journalist called Oliver Thring wrote what can be read as a pretty sexist piece for the Sunday Times about poet Sarah Howe, winner of the T.S.Eliot prize. Some fellow female poets then tweeted to suggest the language he used was somewhat crass (this overview by Katy Evans-Bush details that line of thinking). Thring responded by saying he was being harangued by ‘deranged poetesses’. This tweet was intended to be tongue in cheek, I think, but taken out of context it does make Thring look like quite the bag of dicks. So what, anyone who criticises his ‘gentle’ interview must be deranged? And of course you don’t get female poets, what would the equivalent be.. oh yeah, ‘poetess’! A word whose most recent usage seems to date back to around 1530.

poetess

It is continually baffling to me that journalists, politicians and celebrities still don’t seem to get that on the internet, context does not come with you. If you tweet something, you’d better be prepared for your words to be embedded in a news article all on their own without any of the backstory – and if you’re trying to be funny or wry, you really need to remember that a lot of people won’t get it without a cartoon, your facial expression, and/or about 10,000 other characters to explain the subtext.

image via essentialmedia.com.au

In this case, I don’t even really get the sense he was being arch – he later admitted to snapping because he found the whole thing so ludicrous. The subtext there being, he was pissed off because people got upset with him, in his opinion unfairly. He doesn’t see himself as sexist, therefore he wouldn’t write anything sexist, he wrote about Howe just as he would write about any debut poet who had won a prestigious award for a suspiciously thin volume of poems. NOT ALL MEN, etc.

In an ideal world, this would have been a super time for Thring to check his privilege – to maybe go offline for a couple of hours, consider why people were annoyed with him, and to say ‘alright, I take your point. I didn’t mean it in that way, but I am an educated human and I can see what you’re saying. I will take it on board for the future.’

Instead, as we know, he went for ‘I’m right, you’re wrong and also stupid and from medieval times’ – in the process coining a phrase that really ought to be a Tumblr. FYI, at the time of writing there are two deranged poet tumblrs but no deranged poetesses – go go go!

Marie_Spartali_Stillman_-_Beatrice_(1895)

Anyway, in order to be a real deranged poetess, all you need to do is be female and tweet a journalist pointing out to him that his words can be read in different ways. But if that seems too painfully obvious, I had some other thoughts on things you could try. NB – I’m terrible at poetry.

  • sit on a hillock with your hair loose and one boob out (or both, I’m envisioning a Reubenesque aesthetic here, or possibly pre-Raphaelite) writing a poem that contains no imagery whatsoever
  • conduct all conversation with the medical staff at your next smear test in rhyming couplets
  • petition Private Eye to produce the next twelve issues in iambic pentameter as penance for being quite a lot more arsey than Oliver Thring
  • write a series of sonnets where every single word starts with the same letter and tweet them mercilessly to Oliver Thring every day for the rest of forever

Do you have any suggestions for becoming a deranged poetess? I would love to hear them, so please chuck them in the comments!

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