The Minute: In a creative turn for emojis, Stephanie Berger’s The Grey Bird, reinterprets the icons into a semiotics of poetry worth taking a look.  


Stephanie Berger's The Grey Bird Poetry Chapbook
Stephanie Berger: President & CEO, Co-Founder of The Poetry Brothel, New York City Poetry Festival & Typewriter Project

Stephanie Berger, author of the poetry chapbook In The Madame’s Hatbox, is this time engaged in a collaborative project with Carina Finn tackling the subject of emojis in The Grey Bird: Thirteen Emoji Poems in Translation. Stephanie is co-founder of the The Poetry Brothel, with her previous work appearing in many other magazines. If you’d like to learn a little more about Stephanie Berger’s chapbook (click here for my interview). The thought of emojis in themselves, icons expressive of sentiment, one wouldn’t consider them to be capable of being anything but placeholders in messages to family or friends, that well…emote. In Stephanie Berger’s The Grey Bird there is not only a representation and recreation of the familiar poetic template solely composed of emojis, but translations of their meaning into poetry that result into a work wonderfully experimental. The emojis and their formation are due to Stephanie’s collaborator Carina Finn, emphasizing again that Stephanie is only translating them from picture to text. Which means that Stephanie’s project of deciphering symbols with substantial knowledge of their meaning, is still divorced from Carina’s own meaning as she wrote and organized the emojis originally. 

The Grey Bird, Stephanie Berger's recent chapbook about emojis and poetry
The Grey Bird: thirteen emoji poems in translation

Masked behind the playfulness are the subtle themes of love, loss, death, and identity. It is perhaps owed to the poem “The Death of the Grey Bird” wherein the eponymous figure dies. The actions described within the poem emit this absurdist reading of what could be this central figure’s death that is noteworthy but the world just turns and carries on, and on. All too quickly the emoticons played a trick on me. As the interpretations and signs seemed to be running around rampantly at some attempt to reach for a master narrative or organization, to hold on to, but have no ability to grasp it. In this case, the grey bird we wish hadn’t died, but we can’t do anything about it, so we just move on to the next moment to fill our time. 

In speaking about titles, they range in both length and creativity. For example:

Is translated from:


To titles more simplistic:


img_20161211_0005_newWithin the framework of the pictorial emoji poems themselves, punctuation remains. Which caused an even further constraint on Stephanie’s interpretations to fit or encompass what the emojis signify. So there were times I wondered how lines would translate into poetic text. I also felt at times that the verses were forced in order to create something resembling a poem, such as, in “Death of The Grey Bird.”

In the fourth stanza, the first two lines read:



which is translated from:




Lines such as this felt they were constructed to fit the constraints in order to make good on the project. So some lines do admittedly feel out of place within some poems. But, considering that the emoji’s were in themselves a constraint that had to be taken into consideration, Stephanie’s translations are a more ambitious attempt to make concrete the ambiguity of emoji poetry which is a herculean task. In short, the creative ambition of emoji poetry is something curious and novel to consider. It is hard to fault this chapbook for anything because frankly, how does one even begin to create a metric for such a text, because that would be negating its very thesis of experimental spontaneity. But I do have to recommend looking at it yourself, or at least dabble in your curiosity if it piques your interest just as it did mine. At 31 pages, it’s a quick, quirky, and whimsical read, so that even if you don’t understand it or agree on the interpretations, one can at least admire the creative insight Stephanie has interpreted herself into.