The world doesn’t make sense. A couple smart people have tried to float this observation past the general public before in more complicated terms (see: existentialism, Dadaism, and Buddhism) and it hasn’t really been successful for a lot of reasons, most of which is that it’s not really a fun or productive attitude to have about the universe. But if we can be honest just for a second: life is absurd, it’s bizarre, it’s incomprehensible and it’s totally overwhelming. There’s a lot of ways people deal with this. I’ve heard religion and philosophy are pretty good at the whole “how do we explain our existence” thing, but I don’t know if those kinds of overarching narratives do it for me. So, after denial, I like Twitter best.
I don’t know how other people understand their lives, but because of my inability to make sense out of my own, I spend my time alternating between involved consciousness and the fuzz of introspection. I surface into actually engaging with reality rarely and when I do it’s usually not long before my neuroses suck me back under. And Twitter is an exact parallel. It’s a good metaphor for what the world is. Just blips and bloops of other people’s stupidity and egoism and funniness and sadness and anger interspersed with my attempts at vocalizing the same feelings in such a way that other people will notice.
At some basic level, a successful poem is a poem that broadens the very specific personal experience of its author into something that evokes emotion from its reader. (At some basic level, all art is like that.) And if I, as Tweeter Extraordinaire, am able to somehow condense a joke or an image into 140 characters and my 135 followers read it, that’s poetry.
The poetry that I read and that I try to write is motivated by this pursuit of an elusive moment of experience, whether it was a moment of beauty or pain or intellectual clarity. Poetry is a collection of moments—just as life is—that tries to say just one small thing about what it is to be alive. One of my favorite quotes about poetry comes from Jane Hirshfield (who apparently is a Princeton alumna, thanks Wikipedia!): “Poetry… in the face of elusive experience—tries to find a way to let an experience’s depths gleam again with some part of their original mystery and meaning, or, as often, to find that glimpse in the first place.” And as Jack Kerouac said, “capture the segment of time, everything that is happening in front of you, there is your perfect poem.” When you tweet, you take one thought that occurred to you, one experience you had, and turn it into language, which sounds exactly like what Kerouac and Hirshfield had in mind.
The form of Twitter is perfect for the creation of poetry. A lot of poems deal with constraints: haikus, sestinas, villanelles. Poetry is an art form that thrives off of limits: what can I do with my virtually unlimited supply of language within the society I live, which is represented by the restrictions this form has put on me? Can I exceed, transcend, or exploit them? Can I perform in way that is honest and real even within entirely arbitrary limits that challenge my ability to do just that?
The 140 character limit is just another form of poetic constraint. I could see it being a poetry assignment: in 140 characters, convey an idea you had. Or a joke you made. Or something that made you mad/sad/glad. Or even a nice turn of phrase. Do that. Do it well. Do it well enough that there are people who say to themselves “you know what, I’d like to have access to this person’s 140 character thoughts whenever they decide to put them in the universe.”
The form also intensifies the use of language. Every character of a tweet is purposefully chosen. When you only have 140 characters to use, even the inclusion to use a period is a conscious one. There are those who go totally e.e. cummings in the Twittersphere, never capitalizing or punctuating. There are those who only use grammar satirically, in order to create a certain self-mocking tone for their tweet or to appropriate a kind of demotic voice and say something purposefully naive and therefore ironic. But do you abbreviate or spell the word out? Do you double-tweet because you have more to say than will fit in 140 characters? Is that somehow bending the rules? In an age where the death of literature is constantly moaned about, Twitter provides pretty good evidence towards the contrary: I don’t know the last time words have been so scrutinized and analyzed by so many people daily. It’s poetry distilled to its absolute most basic elements—yes fleeting, yes short, but full of real linguistic innovation, real artistic thought, and cool enough to hang around for a while.
Here, now, a list of really, truly great Twitterpoems.
“me n God kick back w a couple of cold root beer floats, I grin and say ‘just like the absentee father I never had’ he playfully kills me”-@pushing_hoops
::start texting:: go to safari,google how to spell a word ::finish texting::-@VINNYGUADAGNINO
I want to snort your pussy dandruff & throw a puppy at a cop. -@robdelaney
bedazzle then drape a disgusting secondhand mink over the top and sides of your computer monitor and watch the whole ‘net be born anew- @graeyalien
Did you know that male sea horses are the ones that give birth not the female.-@KimKardashian
Want to know the worst thing about yourself? Hang out with a kid for an hour, then ask them.-@kellyoxford
mental note, now with impressionable baby in house maybe stop saying “when? when will death come?” every time something minor goes wrong -@mountaingoats
I just zoned on how ill it is to really fall in love… Pimpin’ is whatev … Love is that shit!- @kanyewest
“YOU”- @ horse_ebooks