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Twitter is the new haiku

Randall F. Clemens

I originally published this blog on August 26, 2009.

Poetry has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I do not come from a family of avid readers. If my father has read one book, that is one more than I would have guessed. He says The Executioner’s Song is his favorite, but I inherited his copy and, judging from its pristine condition, I think he saw the movie. My mom reads during one week a year, when she is on vacation at Ocean City, Maryland. She has gone to the same bookstore and the same rack for as long as I’ve been alive. She reads those lewd pulp fiction novels with strapping, shirtless muscle-bound heroes on the covers. She voraciously charges through the books, so much so that any observer would guess she’s a pro. I asked her once why she only reads when on vacation, since she clearly enjoys the activity; she just shrugged her shoulders. But, like a lot of parents, they believed in the importance of reading and bought me mounds of books.

My childhood hero was Shel Silverstein. I wanted to be like him. I wrote my first book of poetry in the second grade; although the quality has been downhill since then, I fear, I have continued to write. Now my heroes are mostly Irish: W.B. Yeats, Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill.

Novels are nice, but I am impatient and have trouble sitting still. I appreciate the brevity, precision, and thoughtfulness present in a great poem. Every word matters. Haiku is a perfect example.

At the turn of the 19th century, the Imagists–Ezra Pound, in particular–were influenced by haiku and the economy of words to convey an image. They thought, “Why write a poem with 30 lines if you can do it in three?” The same logic has resurfaced recently in the form of micro-blogging, twitter being the most known example. Now, instead of 17 syllables, we get 140 characters or less.

Bashō, I think, would be great at tweeting. With its abstractness, Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” just seems like an amazing tweet: “The apparition of these faces in the crowd; / Petals on a wet, black bough.”

The point I am trying to make–and I am trying to make a point–is that twitter is not simply the plaything of constantly plugged-in techies. Micro-blogging is not an untouchable, immutable concept. Twitter has value. Twitter has substance. Twitter can be relevant in learning settings. But we, educators and students, are the ones that have to imbue it with meaning.