Why you should care
Because poets find their voices everywhere.
If you aren’t a Reddit devotee, it can be a little bit terrifying to wade in. Like an aughties message board combined with a boxing match, everyone seems to know each other or wants to take each other down in the nastiest possible ways. But some of us find our way in a little at a time, clicking on an “r/relationships” post here (“He tried to steal her Hamilton tickets!”) or a tweeted imgur photo there (baby penguins, probably). Or, maybe, when you spot a poem where you didn’t expect a poem to be.
For that you can thank Poem_for_your_sprog, aka Sam Garland. By day, he’s a recently anointed history Ph.D. in the U.K. By other times of day, he’s popping up at random on message boards, obvious every time: He’s the only one writing in tightly wound light verse. If you’re not familiar with Reddit’s format, it’s just a lot of people in an internet lifeboat, asking each other questions. For example: “What inanimate object would you NOT want to become sentient?” Or “What do you have an extremely strong opinion on that is ultimately unimportant?” For Garland, a thread like “Scientists of Reddit, what is the most crazy concept that may actually be possible in the future?” is an occasion to answer:
Migrate to the city that floats in the sky!
It’s endlessly better incredibly high!
You’ll climb on a cloud, and you’ll flutter and fly!
But stay off the surface.
Don’t go there.
His poems vary wildly, from basic ABAB rhyme schemes to more complex trochaic octameter, bringing back recurring characters (there is a little boy called Timmy who, like South Park’s Kenny, is always dead by the end of the verse) and covering topics political, social and sexual. They are bright spots in a sea of internet: By their very form and nature, you know each poem was given actual thought and consideration before the author hit “Post.” Though Garland’s been writing poetry since he was little, when he penned rhymes for his sister, Reddit’s a largely separate part of his life. “What’s taken me by surprise, though, is just how much time I spend thinking about rhyme, and even in rhyme, when I’m not writing it,” he says. “I constantly have little snippets — the odd line, or verse, or even just a few words — floating around my head.” That — and his Reddit notoriety — led to a book last year, The Mouse in the Manor House, which is almost all original poetry.
Despite the jokes, people do make their living writing poetry. Garland’s work is in some ways similar to the latter-day poetic volumes of Calvin Trillin, who writes rhyming commentaries on the news. But other than established journalists like Trillin, it’s hard to think of many people forging a path ahead with light verse in an artistic universe that’s largely moved on from the staidness of iambic pentameter. The internet is in some ways the perfect testing ground: It likes fast and funny, and it’s completely unforgiving. “People read comments quickly on Reddit and move on — an elaborate rhyme scheme done poorly just won’t work. It has to be right first time,” says Garland, who takes commissions but admits that being a full-time doggerel poet isn’t really a viable career. And while Garland is prolific, he can’t keep up with the requests from strangers for personal poems that’ll honor a dead loved one, an anniversary or delivery the perfect apology. He estimates he’s completed 350 such poems, on top of the book and his regular posting online, over the last four years. “If I could,” he says, “I would spend 10 hours a day every day writing in rhyme.” Nonetheless, his poetic life remains largely separate from his real life. Off the internet, nobody knows you’re a sprog.