The Byte-Sized Poem: Why I Tweet

You know, I never really got the hang of Twitter. My cell phone is just a phone, with text messages costing me a pretty penny to send and receive, so the idea of receiving instant automatic text message updates from friends in 140 characters (the original conception behind Twitter) was never all that appealing to me. Now, in its current incarnation, Twitter serves as a kind of combination headline ticker and real-time global chat room — and if I never had a use for either of those things separately, I can’t imagine what I’d do with them together.

Still, I do tweet.

I’ve had a Twitter account since April 2007, in fact. Originally under the name aortography (an account now defunct except for automatic updates I haven’t bothered to turn off), I’ve been “microblogging” with Twitter for four years now.

Why? I write poetry.

a·or·tog·ra·phy (n.) The radiographic visualization of the aorta and its branches by injection of a radiopaque substance.

Aortography

That scarlet path burned white — devoted animal
etched on glass — teach me to be still
between this coming and going.

I use Twitter to write what I like to call “byte-poems,” haikus for the digital age, constrained not by syllables but by characters. I approach tweeting as a practice in distillation and attention — listening close to the busy world around me and the currents that move through my own body. Noting changes in the season, in the land, in the weather and in my own moods. I like to think that my tweets can inject a little bit of stillness — a moment of pause and reflection — into a world so often infatuated with and consumed by its own chattering self-narration. I don’t use Twitter to post links, or chat with friends. (I have better ways of doing both.) And I don’t have many followers. Still, the practice is something I enjoy, and something that I believe has value.

And it’s nice to see that I’m not the only one. Poet Laureate of the United States, Robert Pinsky thinks that contemporary poets can use modern social media technologies like Twitter to tap into the currents of public discourse and conversation, reaching thousands, even millions of readers in brief bursts of insight and beauty. The rule of thumb for Twitter is, after all, the key to all great poetry: “Make every word count.”

So if you tweet, I encourage you to give “byte-sized poetry” a try. I look forward to a day when my Twitter feed is not only a stream of disparate promotions and snippets of chat, but a tapestry of verse woven from the words of people all over the globe, sharing their unique glimpses of our crazy-beautiful world.

To get you started, here are some examples of “byte-poems” that I’ve written. (If you enjoy these, you can follow me @alileighlilly, or check out “Tidbits & Snippets” in the sidebar of the blog.)

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Who’ll sit with me in the East Room — silver seafoam mosses, moonstone waters, cobalt fiori — be silent with me, and watch the light move in?

~

>dé·jà vu (n) impression of having experienced this before; as in, “I have been rain, I have been ice, I have been glass; I am rain again.”

~

Sleepy birdling, where did you go when the cat was prowling? Now she’s gone, you come hopping across the gravel — flightless, witless, wild.

~

Watching the showerhead drip into my palm — I become the statued monk, offering bowl overflowing — just as naked, welcoming & worn with moss.

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The indigo bunting’s feathers have no pigment — sunlight shows them brilliant or black. Dad says grace is choosing to be in the world anyway.

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Feeling antagonistic today. Patriotism is a pathogen. Looking to start a fight with someone who doesn’t think I’m as great as I think I am.

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After you left I saw a grackle that was nothing but guts & bones inside. But the wings were wide open, love. The wings were still wide open.

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What is the prayer of storm? That you and I are moments of the world, meeting itself and speaking low of music in the lightening wind.

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Fine European chocolate wafer crumbs lost into the keyboard. Engine noise lost into night. I’m home again, though some make it look so easy.

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Guy outside my window keeps asking his friend, “You hit a bear? A living bear? You hit a bear? Really? A bear? You hit one? You hit a bear?”

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She cupped the small stone in her folded hands, breathed in & out the one note. The evening folded its hands around her, breathing in & out.

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Shafts of moonlight on the bedroom floor. Without thinking, I’m on my knees, tracing through dust to the windowsill, where night is waiting.

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My hands float like dead leaves in the bathwater. Mind asks of Spirit, “What is the Body, then?” Spirit says, “Not this,” and also, “This.”


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Alison Leigh Lilly nurtures the earth-rooted, sea-soaked, mist-and-mystic spiritual heritage of her Celtic ancestors, exploring themes of peace, poesis and wilderness through essays, articles, poetry and podcasting. You can learn more about her work here.

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