I’ve been a longtime proponent of pop-culture and memes. This gets me into a lot of debates that a poet shouldn’t get into. Debating Ludacris’ lyrics as sound poetry may not end up being the highlight of my poetic career, but I still stick to that argument (if you would like to hear that argument, just get me on a blind date and ply me with beer). Ludacris lyrics aside, I am not the only poet who goes about intellectually discussing memes and pop-culture and its relevance to poetry. Why? Probably to validate the hours and hours we spend on it.

How many hours have I wasted on Ermahgerd? The meme went through all of the stages of meme-ing, it started with an image of a young girl losing her shit over an awesome collection of books (aka me when I was gifted Goosebumps) with a simple caption of “GERSBERMS: MAH FRAVRIT BERKS.” The interesting part is when it spinned off into a million different memes. It went from animals to television, and to—my favourite—binders full of wormern!  Ermahgerd allowed for any statement to be ermahgerded. For a simple example, the original text of Goosebumps from the originating meme was translated to Gersberms. From that meme the image circulated with varied Ermahgerd text. Oh my and god being translated to Er Mah Gerd. The language is structured on the accent of a young girl going through puberty.Considering that the meme fractured and multiplied in a multitude of ways, it wasn’t long until the collection of words being translated became an informal language. Actually, it was instantly. Which in turn, relays the poetics of this meme: phonetics.

With the work of bill bissett, you see a similar understanding of the language. Both that language is easily fallible, yet it is persistent. He alters spellings of words (without consistency) and ermahgerd manages the same concept. Reading bill bissett’s work doesn’t involve a translator, nor does the ermahgerd meme. It’s a matter of understanding that language is mouldable and playful. For example, take a look at “dreems” by bill bissett.

d r  e e m s

                                                  dreems

                          me  em  mee  seems  ees  ms

                     see  sm  eem  dr whn i wake up skreeming

                 is it th self undr th self undr th self  th self most

                         undr  whos  amayzd at  thers no time 2 meet                                                                                        on

                     sumwun by accident  like thr usd 2 b  whn was that

            on th islawell wanting 2  navigatend uv plentee   th seeming place

                                    uv evree being  n whn thn we wake  up

                      opportunitee  glayshul lov  dreem s e always melting  dr fan

            tasee  heers th voyage yu eem me  yu dreem me  all th

               lerning  n unlerning  n trying  myself thru  if yu had turnd

                            round 2 me  i wud have stayd  tho i was happee bizee

                 making my appointments  ther ar sew manee meers  mesrs  meserrs

                                            mees  ms  seem  dr emm   dreem a tray

                             uv doktors  nd th strange mesyur uv being  or  whn a dreem

                        redeems us  returns  us 2  our reel  far close up being  our self

                    fles elf same aim 4     well  whats best n whn thn we wake up   happee  is it

               a dreem     sequins     all repeetid aktivitee leeds 2 habits  habits uv deeling

                       habits uv thinking    reems  meer d  erds  ds ders  er   its how  wellyuns

               we pick up relees  lessr  lessr  drees  whers aee espeshulee if ther is no

                   noffis uv  whos 2  not groov with  if we can  let us  us 2 let  welkums

                  n n they want 2   how manee rooms in each uv us  relax th kodependensee

                                 dreems  rems  dr   md  m a    lessr dreems

                                  sd  den  dem  taking care

                                        ed   ed  dre  its howevr we seem 2 us  b digestiv  solar

                          touching th glass  we se things  what tensyuns  syuns

                          red  rend  med  ned  deemstr

                    thy n  slipt in yes  der dee  r dem  emd

                                           deerall  th words ride from   hide from  rideages

                                   wun word  no    dr  obvious  wuns  wer   missing  know its

                                     lessr  dreems  whers anee hierarkess uv othrs  espeshulee

                                                             all ok  feeling  that hat n endlesslee

                     wundring  dr mees  eems   sr  deem   meed   rs  eemlesslee en

                      we seem 2 us  how we see things  what ten

                     whats best  dr eems  seems

bissett plays with sound using the way we process these words. Let’s take the line “mees  ms  seem  dr emm   dreem a tray” our eyes will attempt to scan through the words at a normal reading pace, but doing so will fail to pronounce the words according to how we normally process these letters in their current coordination.  Quickly scanning through the line would have the reader pronouncing “mees,” “seem,” then dream based on the pattern laid out by bissett, but “dr emm” doesn’t necessarily connotate dream. The words being presented are the acronym for doctor and the letter M. Failure to read the words properly have the reader re-scanning the line. But going back, is “dr emm” just the author’s restructuring of the word dream in broken language? Are we meant to see the word dream, but pronounce it in another way? This style of writing slows the reader down, has the reader re-scanning  and at points allows a playfulness in our pronunciation.

Taking a closer look at the playfulness in pronunciation, take a read of the lines “dreems / me  em  mee  seems  ees  ms / see  sm  eem  dr whn i wake up skreeming.” Beyond the obvious em’s and elongated e’s, there is a flipping, breaking, and fracturing of the word dreems. In reading, and re-reading this poem, it becomes clear that bissett is utilizing a phonemic orthography for his language. The reader is pushed to read the words phonetically. This elongated em sound, creates a meditative quality that is lost if the reader holds onto the language’s literal meaning. Near the end of the line referenced earlier, if the reader stops at “dr” and pronounces it “der” or “doctor,” the sound is lost, and the meditative state of the dreamlike poem is lost.

Now that we are reading phonetically let’s take a look at the first paragraph of this post translated in ermahgerd using the translator available here:

DA MERM WERNT THRERGH ERL ERF DA STERGERS ERF MERMAHNG, ERT STERTERD WERTH ERN ERMAHG THERT HERD VERERLERTER, ERND DA SPERNERFS ERCERERD. ERT RERCHERD ERN ERDERTERNERL STERG ERN WHERCH DA MERM BERGERN TER ERNFERLTRERT LINERG ERN A WER THERT NERT ERL MERMAHS DER. ERMAHGERD ERLERERD FER ERNER STERTERMAHNT TER BER ERMAHGERDERD. FER A SERMPL ERXERMPL. DA ERERGERNERL TERXT ERF GERSBERMS FERM DA ERERGERNERTIN MERM WERS TRERNSLERTERD TER GERSBERMS. FRERM THERT MERM, ERT BERCERM ERMAHGERD GERSBERMS. ER MAH ERND GERD BIN TRERNSLERTERD TER ER MAH GERD. DA LINERG ERS STRERCTERERD ERN DA ERCERNT ERF A YIN GERL GIN THRERGH PERBERTER ERND LERSIN HER SHERT ERVER ERN ERSUM CERLERCTERN ERF BERKS (SERMAHTERMAHS I GERT CERNFERSERD ERND THERNK THERT YIN GERL ERS MAH).

In this translation, we see some of the ways words are translated. I, O, and A becomes ER, THE become DA, and so on. It’s a rather simplistic level of translation, but you can see a level of ingenuity within it. Reading is forced phonetically and after several attempts the words become visible, it creates an hilarious tone in the voice in which the tongue feels as though it is pressed agains the roof of the mouth. At some point if you didn’t burst out laughing from the ridiculous nature of the translations, well then I feel sorry for your black heart.

The original meme’s photo created millions of responses, from spin-off images to status updates that it became easy for people to translate regular English to this derivative.

The English language has a breaking point in which if you jumble the letters enough, the meaning is lost. bill bissett’s work and the ermahgerd translations bring it to a point where it is still understandable and can be processed as the English language, pushing the boundaries of signifiers. This meme created a language in days, which was generally accepted and comprehended by the English-speaking public loosely using phonetic translations using a pre-pubecent accent.

I’m in no way attempting to minimalize bissett’s work (I have a homo-poetic crush on him) as he has an intelligent and meaningful purpose to his work, but I’m merely paralleling the playful characteristics of his linguistic translations. His ingenuity parallels the insta-language created by this meme. It plays off a convention of phonetic translation. Albeit a very simple one, I like to think that young kids are partaking in an age-old tradition of poetics without even knowing it. They are translating and building language.

Or, in other words, ermahgerd, pererty.

Have a meme/popular culture reference that you’ve been breaking down poetically? Email me your thoughts and rants at editor@poetryisdead.ca.

Daniel Zomparelli is the Editor-In-Chief of Poetry Is Dead magazine and author of Davie Street Translations (Talonbooks, 2012).