The Guardian Text Message Poetry Competition

  • 2001
  • 2002

A text message poetry competition with The Guardian.

I sent an email about poetry to Vic Keegan, the editor of the Technology section of the Guardian, he replied, and in a few more emails we had worked out a way to run a poetry competition by text message.

We asked people to send The Guardian poems by text message and I wrote an introduction for the launch of the competition.

We got about 7000 in two weeks, which were whittled down from a long list of about 100 to a short list of seven by two experienced poets, Peter Sansom and UA Fanthorpe, and those seven were sent back to everyone who entered, one poem per day, for seven days.

Each day at about lunch time all the 7000 participants got a poem by text, read it, decided if they liked it, gave it a score of between one and ten and sent that score back to the Guardian as a text. At the end of the week the scores were added up and the poem with the highest score was the winner, which was this one by Hetty Hughes, a student in Bradford at the time:

"txtin iz messin,
mi head n me englis,
try2rite essays,
they all come out txtis.
gran not plsed w/letters shes getn,
swears i wrote better
b4 comin2uni.
& she's african "

What was so fantastic about the competition was that the texts came from everyone, everywhere, all the time.

Of the seven people on the short list, none thought of themselves as poets, and the 7000 messages were about everything from big news stories of the day (mad cow disease) to personal relationships, to a poem about texting on the toilet.

This was the first time I'd seen a web based interface for managing inward text messages, and in the second year I had a hand in specifying what the interface needed to do. This was the starting point for City Poems, Anywhereblogs and Thumbprint.

Because it was so successful in the first year, in the second year other people got involved and made it worse. After that it had run its course.