My instinct is that young people communicate much more so with images than I ever did – you just need to look at Instagram to recognise that. Images offer, sometimes, a different kind of efficiency compared to language the poems that I like are made up entirely of images, by which I mean poetic images, rather than photographic images. ‘The Dream House’ by Matthew Sweeney is a fine example of a poem which is pretty much only a description of a house; there’s nothing epiphanic. It could well exist as a photograph. The ease with which photographs are created and shared must be having an effect on how language is used.
I wonder if that’s what the connection is: for people who have always been able to author images and communicate with them, language must be different. Maybe they see poems and they understand images in a way that some of us just don’t, because they’ve grown up with images in the way that I just didn’t. They know innately how images work and what their limitations are. So, for instance — not using it myself— I assumed Instagram was just pictures of people with cocktails on beaches, but even with that photograph there has to be a little bit of text that provides context, it’s not enough to simply have the solitary picture. So, I think people understand that there’s something this picture isn’t communicating — context — and that they need text to do that. If the text alongside that image says ‘best funeral ever’, that’s a really shocking context to put that image into. But if you say ‘cocktails with the lads on the beach’ then that text confirms what’s happening and provides context. The image itself can’t do that; you need language to do that. I just think people who use it a lot probably just know how images work, and how language works with an almost innate kind of sophistication.