Lili van Belle – I believe that memes can be poetry.

On the TEDxAmsterdamWomen 2017 stage, Lili van Belle took us on a journey through the changing landscape of poetry. The increased power of prose and memes, and the transition from classical poetry to its contemporary little sister -- a transition which is not considered ‘academic enough’ to be discussed in schools, but is more relevant now, than ever before.

“Poetry is  going viral,” Lili states, because we’re turning it into a meme, an amusing item that is spread widely online/social media. But, as opposed to classical poetry found in books, letters and scrolls, memes are mostly online which is changing the function of ‘poetry.’ In the past we experienced poetry as a whole, as a community; today, it is more of a solitary experience, from behind our computer screens. What hasn’t changed though is the opportunity for people to react. Comment sections on Facebook, for example, are like group discussions of the past, where poetry would be read in groups.

But don’t be fooled by the differences in appearance. Lili manages to enlighten us with how the basics of poetry can be compared to the basics of memes.

  • Meme and Poetry texts are adjusted to fit the sentence and context. Grammar and words are changed to make it sound appropriate.
  • Poetry of the past came highly decorated in scrolls and books, with beautiful drawings and prints. Through images a meme story is enhanced, as well, sometime even telling the story.
  • Poetry and memes can both be made political very quickly.
  • Both poetry and memes aim for the absurdity. Dadaists used absurdism to get people involved. Memes can do the same as a joke. And if it’s a joke - it’s not hurting anyone, right?

Lili shares with us how she disagrees with the notion that memes are just funny pictures with funny texts. She believes memes can be poetry. We invite you to decide for yourself.  


Missed the event but still want to see Lili’s talk? Check out her TEDtalk here!