I’ve got to admit that I’ve never been a huge fan of poetry. Give me a long, winding adventure with Samuel Pickwick, Esquire, or an escape into historical detail with something like Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies. But sit down and lose myself in a book of poetry? Perish the thought. Oddly, It’s taken the 140-character limit of Twitter to make me appreciate poetry’s condensed form.
That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the beauty in poetry. I do. But I’ve always found it hard to truly immerse myself in words that don’t let me maintain the flow of a single story. Now, several Twitter users have started a trend that combines the best of both worlds.
One of them is Jennifer Egan, whose novel A Visit from the Goon Squad won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. Egan is telling a story, ?Black Box,? one Tweet at a time, and the results read like a series of tiny, self-contained?and beautiful?poems.
Here’s one example from The New Yorker, where her Tweets also appear:
?A small table and chairs carved into a
spindly clifftop promontory are doubtless
designed for private conversation.?
Reading through her stream of Tweets has got me eyeing a couple of books of poetry that have long languished on my shelf.
Another user whose Twitter stream has tweaked my interest in poetry’s condensed form is an art and history buff who’s tweeting historically accurate messages in the guise of Tom Thomson. Yes, that Tom Thomson, the one who died a mysterious death back in 1917 in Ontario’s Algonquin Park.
Unlike most who use the service, this Tweeter (a Canadian) chooses to remain anonymous. In this Globe and Mail article, he notes that the Thomson-based Twitter stream ?is about Tom, honouring his memory, the people who loved him and his art.?
And there’s a surprising beat-poet feel to some of the entries in a recent New Yorker callout for Tweets to celebrate the 35th anniversary of George Lucas’s Star Wars. The winner?
??He killed your dad!? ?But he is my dad!? ?And You’re my sister!? Beep beep bloop.?
I can practically see the guy in the black beret slouching up to the mic to read that one.
The interesting thing is that Twitter started out as the most bare-bones of platforms for social media. You can link to photos and to longer Tweets, but in essence It’s just about those 140-character messages in your feed. There are no walls or games or other distractions to get in the way.
It’s true that in the beginning, the service did lend itself to the ?Guess what I had for breakfast?? type of conversations that led many to dismiss it. But Twitter?and Twitter users?have evolved, seeing the possibilities beyond telling the world that you’ve just washed your hair.
These Twitter streams, and other similar ones, have been a good reminder that It’s about the power words hold, even in highly condensed form. Maybe It’s time to dust off those poetry books after all.
S.D. Livingston is the author of several books, including the new suspense novel Kings of Providence. Visit her website for information on her writing (and for more musings on the literary world!).