• West Cork Literary Festival 8-15 July 2022

The Art of Texting: Composing Text Poems with Shelley Tracey

Writing.ie | Resources | Words in Many Forms

Shelley Tracey

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Btween abbreviations,

intuiting the unbloomed word.

The unsung notes r sliding, rising.

A consonant unothering.

This poem, which was composed and sent out on my mobile phone, is one of the 300+  textpoems which I have shared with an expanding audience in the last three or four years. Enthusiastic responses from the recipients of the poems have inspired me to develop this new poetic form.  Some of these responses are themselves poetic: both from established writers, and from those who have never written poetry before. Other comments are about how the poem arrived at the appropriate moment, or expressed an experience or emotion accurately:

“You’ve captured the feeling exactly”

“Thanks. What lovely images to take forward into the day”

The words “What an uplifting masterpiece of hope”, came in response to the following poem:



This sunfilled day that teems with lite,

Pulsing and darting btween the pathways

& the waters and the grasses,

The fins of the horizon held at bay by safety nets of haze,

Like arcs of birds quicksilvering,

the glistning of now. X

The audience’s reactions to the textpoems evoke the capacity of the poems to create a connection between sender and receiver.  Although a common accusation against mobile phones is that they are “destroying the English language”, my experimentation with this form suggests otherwise.  I propose that the immediacy and the intimate nature of texting lend themselves to profound moments of communication, and that the specialist language of texting, with its use of abbreviations and other conventions,  is creating a community of users of a new linguistic form. This form plays on words, such as  “consonant” in  the poem “Texting”, and facilitates neologisms such as “unothering” , which I coined as a  metaphor for making connections.

As I explain in my chapter on textpoems in the publication The Art of Poetic Inquiry (2012), my development of the textpoem form originated in the desire to connect with a friend who was at the bedside of her dying mother.  When my stock of the usual expressions of consolation ran dry, I began to share observations of nature and of candlelight and flowers in the room in which I was writing; these evolved into poems about friendship, the experience of nature, the creative process itself, and of loss.   The condensed textpoem form allows me to express momentary insights about difficult issues, such as the death of my father:


Waking from a dream of you, half understood,

I am audience 2 the muted birds, the winter rain.

Listning 4 snowdrops, breathing soft,

their ancient journey now survived.x

As in haiku, the small spaces of texting offer opportunities for sharing insights and observations in the moment.



The spaces of texting

a deep well to dive in;

narrow, profound.

I compose my textpoems in the transitional spaces of walking and on train journeys; the images are born both from reflection and  direct observation. The poems also come from my meditation practice of lighting a candle in a quiet room at sunrise or sunset.  References to candles and different times of day are therefore common in the poems:


Candle @ the window, flame leaning on its stem

The foreground daisies pendulum.

The clouds r  breaking promises made 2 the listning sea.

A flickerlite of swifting birds.

Soft shadows on the headland bloom.

Bteween 2 truths, a stillness.x

Many of the poems are about the seasons, alluding both to the specific moment and to the broader theme of meaning-making.


Autumn morning, spotlighting remnants of the season passing

The fern a fragment of a fish’s spine

Archaic script on paper leaves.

A chestnut is no more than punctuation,.

The blankness of the frosty grass

makes everything seem simple x

I use the term “textpoems” rather than “text poems” to emphasise the specific poetic form which I am developing. The website http://www.textmefree.com/sms-poems.html explains a “text poem” as “Simply put: it is poetry that fits inside a text message; i.e. poetry that is less than 160 characters long.” My definition of the textpoem form transcends this generic one; my criteria are that the poem should have been composed directly on a mobile phone and also sent out to at least one recipient. The poem should also use the conventions of texting, such as abbreviations. For the sake of saving space on the phone, the poems may be displayed as continuous prose, separated by punctuation marks to indicate line breaks. My textpoems rarely rhyme, but the rhythms tend be more regular than that of my usual free verse. Most of the poems end on a stressed syllable, which adds an air of finality and encloses the moment.


Trees trailing fingers in a river poured thru smoke.

The hills like ducks upending.

The roofscales floating by.


Textpoems, created in virtual space, are ephemeral.  Requests from recipients for printed versions led to the production of a set of 31 textpoems in 2010, with images on the reverse side, presented on small cards in an organza bag, with the title of “Journey Cards”.

The first card introduces the set: “ …The poems are about the everyday journeys we make in the inner and outer worlds of our lives.  There are 31cards in this pack, one for each day of the month, including a blank one for your own words. You can use the cards in many ways: as daily inspirations, for meditation, reading them on journeys, sharing them in groups, or as gifts to others.”

The success of this set and the requests for another generated “Spaces Inbetween”, which is now available for purchase from the Creative Text Poems website:  http://creativetextpoems.co.uk/about-creative-text-poems/. This website operates as a blog to encourage participation in discussing and creating textpoems.

For further information about the poems and cards, email shelley@creativetextpoems.co.uk


About the author

Shelley Tracey is a poet, educator and researcher with an interest in the origins and development of creativity. She has extensive experience of facilitating creative writing and creativity workshops in formal education, lifelong learning, and voluntary and community settings. In 2012, she participated in the Poetry in Motion Project for the Community Arts Partnership, Northern Ireland. Her academic publications include a chapter on textpoems in The Art of Poetic Inquiry (2012), edited by S. Thomas, A. L. Cole and S. Stewart (Backalong Books). Articles about engaging adult literacy learners in poetry to enhance their voice have appeared in LEARNing Landscapes, Fine Print and the RaPAL Journal. Shelley’s poems have been published in a range of anthologies, including Abridged, Artemis, Ringing the Changes and Quantum Leap. Creativity in Action Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/shelleypoet?fref=ts

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