Threnody for #egypt

A “transmedia found poem” dedicated to those whose voices were being silenced. The story behind why and how it was made is below the work.

When I woke, on the morning of January 28, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia – I reached for my iPhone as I usually to, to turn off the alarm. I opened the Twitter app to check my messages and scan through my feed to get the morning’s news. As I scanned my feed, I became aware of an immensely serious situation happening in real time across the world in #egypt.I was only peripherally aware of some tweets floating around the past few days, news of the Egyptian government cracking down on internet access and censorship tweets occasionally popping up. As I read more and more, clicking through the shortened URLs embedded in people’s brief snatches of conversation, I began to understand a broader picture and the significance of what was happening across the world, while I lay in my bed in Melbourne.

This is the series of tweets I RTed across to my followers, blinking back tears for an hour and I tried to communicate the scope and tragedy of what was happening. Instinctively, I tried to build a story that my friends would understand – the richness of the each person’s backstory and shared links from their tweets giving this transmedia narrative a power of its own.

It only occurred to me about a week later that my friends, some who follow my tweets more individually, may have missed what I was trying to communicate, as the tweets were mixed and buried in amongst the voices of many of their followers within the twittersphere.

I’ve used Storify to show my narrative so that it can be one coherent message again. The tweets are listed in the order that I made them, pulling out voices just by using the Twitter app, retweeting and occasionally quoting from blog posts from people I follow, or tweets that those people retweeted.

Some may find this just a random collection of tweets.

I was surprised when I went back to read it again that the narrative had attained its own authorial voice, garnered by a collective of disparate voices. I still cry when I read this. I find their collective voices make this “transmedia found poem” a deeply moving tale. I consider myself only a curator of others’ silenced voices.

In “republishing” this series of tweets, I’ve added the tweet from Diane Ravitch. It was something that I had read earlier, which deepened my thinking about education and inequality – something central to my beliefs about social justice and pivotal to the revolution in Egypt – a revolution for the first time in history without a central leader, self-organized by those with education to use tools to find each other. I’ve added her tweet back into the narrative. Otherwise, the “text” presented here is what I tweeted that morning.

  • Angie

    The tweet that resonates with me the most is by Monika. ” Imagine a future where everyone on earth has a voice.” I need to reflect on this quote for a while and then decide what my actions I will take. This is an interesting quote that could be used with Educators. Hmmm….a sad but inspiring qoute it is. Do we as Educators already believe that everyone has a voice? Do we take our voice for granted? Do we fully grasp what is happening in the rest of the world. Are we equipped to learn alongside our students?

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for your comment Angie. I can picture a future where everyone has a voice – to settle for otherwise is to accept our individual failure to give a future to our children. The realities are harsh but consider the amazing things that have happened just in the last ten years alone. Just one decade ago, who would’ve considered the possibility of a free-to-access worldwide encyclopaedia, in multiple languages, written by the world’s individuals, for the entire world. Wikipedia turned ten this past January. Or the world’s biggest broadcaster of video content in 2011, contributed mostly by individuals. YouTube started in 2005.

      I consider these two examples and other tools like them to be just the start of a journey we’re on. For almost everyone in the world, individual voice doesn’t have much influence. Collective voices, even ones traditionally ignored, can change our world if we can help them find each other.

      It *will* take audacious collaboration, hope and pragmatic optimism to bring about change in education, and by extension our next generation of capable adults – but how can we settle for less?

  • Bravo! A gift greater than its parts, enabled by the the vision of one, the bravery and wits of many and the powerful tools we’re able to harness at the dawn of a new storytelling age. This is the power of Storify, of Twitter, of blogging, of free and open internet access…

    Ian, your tears have awakened these seeds into a monument — not only to recent events in Egypt — but to universal greed, repression, education, revolution and human nature which like all nature is hardwired to crack through the pavement and reach for the sun. Thank you.

  • Royan

    Wow, Ian, this threnody concept is fascinating to me as poetry and narrative. I’m so intrigued by it as a storytelling, and perhaps history writing tool. Thanks for sharing.

  • Ktenkely

    This story we are telling together is pretty amazing, it is when you collect them all in one place this way that the impact is truly felt. What is amazing to me is that this dialogue and story building happens every day. We are each compiling our own version based on the voice we open ourselves too. Doesn’t this also, so well capture just what an amazing thing the events that transpired in Egypt are? Social media is giving everyone on earth a voice. As we are seeing, that voice is hard to silence.

  • Ktenkely

    This story we are telling together is pretty amazing, it is when you collect them all in one place this way that the impact is truly felt. What is amazing to me is that this dialogue and story building happens every day. We are each compiling our own version based on the voice we open ourselves too. Doesn’t this also, so well capture just what an amazing thing the events that transpired in Egypt are? Social media is giving everyone on earth a voice. As we are seeing, that voice is hard to silence.

  • Ian, what an ingenious way of expressing complex ideas and feelings! I’m wondering whether any educators have tried this as a classroom exercise — asking students to present a narrative via a collection of related tweets.

    I especially love the conclusion by Mahfouz.

    THANK YOU for sharing.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you Susan. The idea has a lot of scope. I can imagine high school children learning to interpolate the real world – understanding different speakers and societies’ situational voices – and binding all of this into their own personal understanding of a narrative.

      There are a lot of very interesting aspects of this. Tying it in with your personal interest regarding your book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” – it’s a way of allowing those who are quiet to construct a very powerful voice – each tweet comes with its own backstory – the ability to click on each person or link successively builds a deeper and richer context to the narrative. And it’s a fully democratic way of constructing narrative. Each person’s contribution put out on twitter becomes another’s raw material to build upon. You become accountable in a fashion. Even if quoted out of context, in this hyperlinked world – it’s easier to click back to understand context, or google up the original quote – the veracity of a speaker, even if quoting someone else is supported by a rich world of information more easily found.

      Much food for thought, in terms of teaching children and youth ideas of global citizenship, empathy and civility.

      I’m looking around for other examples, since I’m pretty sure I’m not the first to stumble across something like this. If you find any, I’d love to see what others have done.

  • Jabiz Raisdana


    I love the idea that we can search through what many called muddled meaningless updates and prove that there is not only meaty content all around us, but also subtle nuance and poetry. I needed to take your tweets and put them in a different format to see the poetry come out:

    Pray for #Egypt.
    Very worried
    seems that government is planning a war crime
    tomorrow against people.

    We are all ready to die.
    Egypt matters

    Protestor kisses a riot police officer
    Egypt will keep going all evening
    what the protests in #Egypt can achieve?

    Muslim Brotherhood MP saying protests not being led by political party,
    but by youth
    We are now providing dialup modem service

    time’s unblinking eye,
    great crisis isn’t really about financial debt
    it’s really about the deeper debts we owe to one another
    …a deeper bankruptcy: an insolvency of character, spirit, ethic, purpose, and above all, wisdom.

    best chance to heal our broken world might be a series of revolutions
    economic, industrial, social, political.
    …each starts with tinier awakenings
    personal, professional, ethical, intellectual.

    creating a better future’s going to take what it’s always taken.
    … the future isn’t a game…value isn’t just denominated in today’s dollars and cents… worth is measured in meaning

    Hedge-fund manager John Paulson
    netted more than $5 BILLION in profits in 2010
    As your income goes up, your empathy goes down.
    Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.

    So far today?
    Attacks on protesters, press.
    Internet, cell phone service cut.
    Nobel laureate arrested.
    day still young

    People have no jobs… and the people in power,
    they’re just living in a different world.
    Sound familiar

    The net regards censorship as damage,
    routes around it.
    Whispers from Egypt or Revolutions of Trust

    Everything ██is█████ ████ ████fine ███ █ ████ love. ████ █████ the ███ Egypt ███ ████ government ██ #jan25 #Egypt#

    Internet Blackout
    taking the wealth of the people & distributing it to the private sector
    3 private jets leave Cairo airport under heavy security

    disparity in US media Egypt coverage.
    CNN = peaceful protests.
    FOX = violent protests.
    MSNBC = Charlie Sheen banged porn star

    without Internet access,
    the people of Egypt may not know
    Charlie Sheen is okay

    Who bought & owns U.S. education?
    imagine a future where everyone on earth has a voice.
    Empathy Education

    We are glad to share your incredible talk
    The conscious mind is which is able to respect the idea,
    even if it does not believe in.

    I left the flow of the narrative intact, but another stab at it or a further break-own or shift could highlight more. Perhaps someone wants to give it a go. Thought provoking post. Thanks

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Jabiz. I think when you take the text out of the tweets, it reverts back to a plain found poem – what I think is really interesting about the original form is that the tweets link to a greater transmedia or intertextual context.

      That for me is the power of this form – you can click on the Diane Ravitch’s name and it takes you to her twitter feed:!/DianeRavitch – from there you can see her concerns and context. You can click on her profile URL to find out that she’s perhaps the most authoritative educational historian in the US today and see the rich body of her work on her site.

      Similarly, you can visit the link in Mohamed Mohie’s tweet to watch Zoe’s Weil’s YouTube presentation at TEDxDirigo.

      It’s a form of “poetry” that is hyperlinked to an extremely deep degree. The more one studies the referenced links and each person’s situational voice and context, the more powerful the narrative becomes. I guess it’s like standing on ground level and seeing only the immediate folk around you, but as you view from ever increasing distance, the depth of the hyperlinked big picture grows in richness and complexity.

      I think it has potential to teach empathy in a deep way, because the technical barriers to discovering the contexts are low. You still need to invest time to understand all the surrounding contexts, but perhaps smaller forms could be used to teach youth and young adults about the complexity of the world, by deconstructing it as bite-sized chunks of narrative.

      Still puzzling over the implications. Thank you for your comments – much appreciated.

      – Ian

      • Jabiz Raisdana

        You are right. Wow! Thanks for opening my mind to this idea. I suppose I didn’t have much time and took a precursory look and re-molded it into a form I could swallow in my present state of mind.

        But I do see the power of teaching a poem like this for an extended amount of time, say a semester. Have students lose themselves in the intertextual context, maybe even remix ideas and tid pits into new art forms as they fit.

        Very interesting indeed.

  • Ian, what i currently love the most about this, is that it approaches what i think tech through the web is trying to provide for us.

    intimate conversation with any gathering, anyone, anywhere, at any time.

    i think we are approaching a dimensionality in our conversations we’ve not yet experienced. one where we not only come together per passion, but also in grace and deep respect. one where more can be said, because in our new found security of intimate community, we spend less time with defense. ( ) so more can be understood. one where less needs to be said, because more is understood. ( )

    i love how deep you are taking us.

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  • Ms. Solomon

    Ian, I have come back to this post several times. It’s captivating. I love Jabiz’s found poem, likely because that is the form I have studied the most, the experience with which I have the most comfort and familiarity. But I agree with your point as well. The transmedia/intertextuality is an important part of the experience (though you could argue that most traditional poetry also depends on the same and is incomplete without further investigation and recognition of the texts/media that it alludes to). Is transmedia in this case simply a 21st century form of allusion? And if we get caught up in following links and exploring all the many and varied tangental texts, do we do so at the expense of the poetry? Or is the poetry tangental and the hypertext the point?
    Of course, that’s just what caught me today. The first time I looked at this post, it reminded me of my experience as I watched the elections and protests from Iran in 2009. Then, my questions were more about news and how we receive it/understand it/experience it. Which just goes to show how valuable and complex this post actually is. Thank you Ian!