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