On Aug. 7, 2023, acclaimed poet Richard Siken posted on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. This would not be out of the ordinary, except the tweet was about fanfiction — more specifically, Siken’s own fanfiction writing experience.
“I have tried it and my Destiel is better writing than my Wincest,” wrote Siken, referring to two very popular Supernatural ships. “My Johnlock is better than both.” (Johnlock is the pairing of John Watson and Sherlock Holmes from BBC’s Sherlock.)
Fan Fiction is transgressive. It co-opts the creator’s vision. It steps on it. It is fiction built on fiction. There can be no canon in it. I say do it, have at it. I have tried it and my Destiel is better writing than my Wincest. My Johnlock is better than both. 1/2
— Richard Siken (@richardsiken) August 7, 2023
And across Twitter (well, X, as CEO Elon Musk recently rebranded it) and Tumblr, those familiar with how influential Siken’s work is across different fandom communities went wild.
You see, Siken’s poetry has long been a fundamental part of the fandom experience, particularly for those who are extremely online. Fans across tons of different TV shows, movies, and games — particularly those with big slash (male-male pairings) ships — have added lines from his poetry as captions on their fanart for years, superimposed it on yearning gif edits, or even titled their own fanfiction with it. Seeing the poet not only acknowledge he knows about and approves of fanfiction, but also that he actively participates in fandom, was surreal.
This was especially startling to younger fans, many of whom posted to Tumblr and X (née Twitter) expressing their surprise that Siken is 1) alive and 2) not some guy who lived 100 years ago. Siken had to follow up with a tweet reminding everyone that he is, indeed, alive and also a 21st century poet.
I did not die 100 years ago and I did not die 4 years ago when I had my stroke. It’s okay to Google things, you don’t have to make them up. It’s also okay to quote an author, even use their lines, but you should know who they are and (hopefully) buy their books.
— Richard Siken (@richardsiken) August 10, 2023
Here’s the thing: Siken’s fondness for fanfiction isn’t new at all. In fact, the poet gave a lengthy interview to The Awl eight years ago, where he discussed all things Sherlock, Supernatural, and fandom-related. He has been pretty open about what he loves about fanfiction, and about writing his own fic. Back in 2015, he was active on Tumblr, reblogging fan edits of Sherlock that featured his quotes, posting about his newly-made AO3 account, and taking polls about who would top in a John Watson and Sherlock Holmes smut fic.
But in recent years, he’s been less active on social media, especially after he had a severe stroke in 2019 (this could potentially explain why many younger fans assumed he was not alive). He only just returned to the platform formally known as Twitter this July, which he says is because Siken Bot, the popular Twitter bot that posted snippets of his poetry, went down and he had to fill in for it. (Siken Bot is now called Siken Poems, because it is no longer a bot, but rather run by someone who schedules tweets in advance. Siken says they are going to work together).
It only took Siken a few weeks to fully dive back into social media and embrace the chaos of fan culture. The Johnlock and Destiel tweets were only the beginning. He is now actively replying to people on X, offering his thoughts on other shows and pairings (for instance, Hannigram, the pairing of Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham from Hannibal), and giving writing advice, among other things.
First, are we still doing hashtags? And second, you can take any of my quotes and apply them to any fandom or picture and they will work because they are sad and mopey and full of longing. pic.twitter.com/0jE7ULkx8N
— Richard Siken (@richardsiken) August 9, 2023
Siken clearly understands fandom culture — and he also specifically understands what it is about his poetry that is so appealing to fan artists and fic writers. He even tweeted that fans can attach lines of his poetry to basically any fandom image or pairing and it works, because his poems are “sad and mopey and full of longing.” Then, he demonstrated this by recreating some of his most famous lines in I Can Has Cheezburger speak and putting them atop pictures of cats, inviting others to do the same.
So, to anyone who has ever used a Richard Siken quote on a gifset, as a fic title, or as a caption on some fanart — or even made a funny post about his poetry — there is a non-zero chance he has seen it. But do not fear; because judging by his attitude, there’s also a non-zero chance he was delighted by it.