Finding Actual Poetry in @Horse_ebooks

Esther Zuckerman
Finding Actual Poetry in @Horse_ebooks

@Horse_ebooks, the inexplicably famous spambot that won the Internet with its nonsensical verbal juxtapositions and random observations (if that's even the right word), has been called poetic before, but one writer is taking the account's "poetry" seriously.

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Erin Watson, a 27-year-old writer based in Chicago, composed a series of poems, each based on one @Horse_ebook tweet, that she intends to publish in a chapbook. The 24 poems she intends to include will each feature a line from Horse—wherever that may come from. "It's usually the first line, but it can be any line," she told The Atlantic Wire. "I think of it as kind of the nucleus of the poem. I guess the rest of it is emanating outward from it." Her project has already surpassed its funding goal on Kickstarter.

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Watson says she wasn't an instant Horse convert. At first she found people she follows on Twitter retweeting of Horse "annoying," but then "it started to become this kind of bizarre and kind of emotionally affecting thing every once in a while." So she began collecting tweets and using them as a way to get her to write. Here's an example of one of her poems: 

This wobbly world host to insects and lint and a thousand pithy ways to feel unserious each minute

It brings about a great softening of the mind, like the clouded edges of sea glass (this filter you could download and apply)

A poultice or an opiate, rigidly individual. Alone and erasing sentences to splinters.

For cross reference, here's Horse's tweet from December: 

this wobbly world

— Horse ebooks (@Horse_ebooks) December 22, 2011

The chapbook's title, No Experiences, also taken from a Horse tweet. Watson's "all-time favorite," she notes on her Kickstarter appeal. 

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Watson acknowledges on that page that the Internet has been flooded with products and work inspired by Horse: "It's spawned fan fiction, think pieces, t-shirts, comics, and then some," she wrote. In January New York Times writer Jenna Wortham (whose tweet brought us to Watson) wrote a blog post in about Horse_eComics, which features comic strips based on Horse tweets. Last month, we pointed toward The Annotated @Horse_ebooks, which works to uncover the origin of Horse's tweets. We even found a blog, unrelated to Watson, that has sporadically experimented in Horse poetry: "The Challenge: Without changing any of the words or punctuation, turn select @Horse_ebooks tweets into poems." But Watson wants to make clear that No Experiences "is less about Horse and more about poems." 

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"I think there’s a bunch of stuff going on relating to Horse and Twitter as a medium and relating to persona and authenticity," she said. "I think a lot of my project is exploring what is Horse’s persona and what is my persona and how do I collide them together to try make something that explores both why people appreciate connecting to Horse, which is the thing that has no experience and no thoughts, as well as appreciate connecting to other people who do have thoughts and need to liked." 

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Amazingly, Horse has yet to wear out its Internet welcome, even as it's become somewhat long in the tooth. John Herrman's Splitsider investigation of Horse was published in early January, Adrian Chen's unmasking of the human behind the account came out in February—eons ago in meme terms. You have to wonder, though, if we're already at risk of hitting Peak Horse? Watson, would disagree. She said she recently had a conversation in which her friend explained "that the great thing about Horse_ebooks is that even though it became a meme no one has succeeded in ruining the joke." Well, not yet anyway.