Josh Medsker created a project a couple of years ago called Medskerpedia, and now he has started something new by way of Disappearing Poems on Instagram. I wanted to know more about this new project, so I interviewed Medsker to find out what he is up to and why he’d do such a thing.
HOPKINSON: Josh, you have done some really interesting poetry projects in the past, but this one is by far the most unique and maybe even wildly eccentric. Where/when did the idea first come to you?
MEDSKER: Thank you for the compliments, Trish! It’s hard to pinpoint but where the idea came from, but it started with images only. The decision to add poetry came later.
I was in the parking lot at Stop and Shop one night two or three years ago. For some reason the scene just caught me…. so atmospheric and beautiful. Purple sky, silent and empty parking lot. I’d never quite experienced the sky like that. I was looking down at my phone, fiddling with Snapchat.
It just kind of came together in my head, how awesome would it be to send this beautiful scene to someone, and then shock them by having it go away. It just sort of rang true to me… that you’d appreciate it more after it was gone.
I eventually gave up on the idea cause Snapchat was awkward and difficult to use… and I consider myself a digital native! Sort of. Anyway, when Instagram created the same disappearing feature, I jumped on it.
HOPKINSON: There’s something surreal and completely sad about seeing a poem for only a second and then having it wiped away by technology. I think I’m crying and excited at the same time. What emotions do you hope participants will experience?
MEDSKER: Haha! I hope that people feel startled, then sad, then excited. It’s an exercise in being present. Something I’ve struggled with every day of my life. Ugh!
HOPKINSON: Why poetry?
MEDSKER: Poetry is sort of the way I think now. Condensing a slew of complex feelings and observations into as tight a space as possible. Their economy lends itself to accompanying a photo on a smartphone.
Composing the photos is the big feat for me. I’ve always wanted to be adept with visual art. Hopefully this will hone my eye!
HOPKINSON: This could be seen as commentary on the whole concept of social media, the lack of tangibility, the short attention span of humans, or the fleeting connection of life to art–is it any of these things?
MEDSKER: Absolutely. It’s a direct comment on the digital glut we live in. I don’t know about you, but I get overloaded with info very quickly. And it just turns my mind into a fragmented mess. It’s comforting, in a weird way, to know that these poems and pictures can be experienced but not held on to. I think that’s the real key… that these are meant to be experienced, not consumed. And there’s a difference between reading that statement and actually experiencing it in real time.
There’s this assumption that people have, I think, that we can stave off death if we work hard enough, care enough, consume enough… I hope this project helps people to be more contemplative about the fleeting nature of experience.
I have been doing a lot of pictures of flowers and wildlife. Sometimes i’ll throw a curveball like a thick metal chain on a gate or something. An old brick apartment blocks in the Bronx. The photos are often just something I think looks interesting and has a tangential relation to the words. Hopefully the juxtapositions are interesting to people.
I am always on the lookout for something to snap, and then I come up with the poem on the fly. I don’t like to fret too much about the lines. It’s a direct conversation between me and one other person, so I like to keep it intuitive.
HOPKINSON: Rilke had angels… does Joshua Medsker have Instagram?
MEDSKER: Haha! I’m not totally sure to tackle this but I’ll give it a shot. Rilke wrote in one of his last poems that “every angel is terrifying, but alas, I must invoke you”. Something like that, right? Social media is pretty terrifying and destructive, and I am trying to wean myself off of it. But at the same time, trying to use it in what I hope are innovative ways. Using its inherent qualities to create works that couldn’t be done any other way.
In pulling beauty out of chaos or darkness or whatever you want to call it, you can claw back some of your humanity.
HOPKINSON: How does one sign up to receive your disappearing poetic messages on Instagram?
MEDSKER: Just look for Medskerpedia on Instagram and follow me. Then shoot me a message to say you want in on the poetry!