Homer’s Odyssey was first spoken, then written, then performed. Now, the hashtag #HomersOdyssey brings up literary articles, research and thoughts on the epic poem as well as photos of dogs named Homer.
For Port Townsend poet Christine Hemp, hashtags are an example of how language has evolved from Homer to the digital age.
Hashtags are words or phrases preceded by a hashtag sign (#) and are used on social media to associate messages with specific topics.
“I use a lot of hashtags,” Hemp said. “What is fun for me is to make the hashtags not a title or a caption for the picture, but a hint at something else.”
A poet, author and writing coach, Hemp is also an avid horse rider. While riding her horse, Buddy, she started posting pictures of views from her rides to her social media. Accompanying these photos, Hemp would add a few hashtags, such as #BetweenBuddysEars,” “#crimsonandclover” or “#destinationwillrevealitself.”
Hemp did not include hashtags to categorize her photos on Instagram or Facebook; instead, she used them to express thoughts.
“It becomes much deeper than just, ‘Isn’t that a cute horse,’” Hemp said. “There are poems that go with them now. The hashtag can be an unusual vehicle for language.”
The evolution of language is the subject of Hemp’s upcoming lecture, “From Homer to #hashtags,” as part of the Humanities Washington Speakers Bureau. Her first talk will be at the Port Townsend Library at 7 p.m. Jan. 17.
“We don’t have to be poets or writers to appreciate how language can celebrate the new and accommodate the new,” Hemp said. “We not only change language, but the language changes us.”
With emojis, tweets, hashtags and textspeak entering language, Hemp hopes to start a discussion on how the digital age is transforming how we write and converse.
For those who might lament that technology is diminishing language, Hemp finds that a tweet or a hashtag can still convey feelings, thoughts and ideas.
“The talk will discuss poetry, but it will also include traffic signs, tweets, emojis, other things that help us see things in a new way, because that is what poetry does anyway,” Hemp said. “Poetry is a weather vane for what a culture is.”
One example, Hemp said, is Homer, whose use of metaphors in The Odyssey grounded the epic poem in the culture and daily life of its time.
“Even reading about the terrors of war, you can still have metaphors of things like grinding grain,” Hemp said. “Every status quo has to be blown up again. The cultural disrupting is the very thing that moves us on to whatever we are going to.”
Hemp hopes her talk will provoke a discussion of about how changes in language affect the way we think and feel about our world, history and ourselves.
“One of the coolest things for me about this is that I get to hear what the audience thinks,” Hemp said. “It’s our language. It’s how we connect. I would prefer that the whole talk, the hour-long time space, also helps people to see how their own words can matter in terms of connecting.”
Her Port Townsend lecture will be the first in a year-long tour of Washington, during which she will speak at libraries and other public venues. Hemp is one of 33 Speakers Bureau presenters, a group of professors, artists, activists, historians, performers, journalists and others chosen by Humanities Washington.
The Port Townsend Library will host Speakers Bureau presenters throughout the year.
“I’m always so excited to have access to programs like Humanities Washington that allows us to host such high quality speakers,” said Melody Sky Eisler, director of the Port Townsend Library. “Christine is such an incredible speaker and a wonderful thinker. I’m excited for people to consider how language is evolving and that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.”