New Poems: Reclaiming the “Tweet” as Modern Haiku

October has turned out to be a pretty busy month for me, publication-wise! I’ve been putting off writing a quick update post for you all, since I don’t want to spam your news feeds and inboxes every time a new piece comes out… but at this point, the procrastination is getting a little bit silly! So for now, here are just a few of my latest poems (with more to come next week, so be sure to swing by and check those out, too!)…

I wanted to group these poems together for a reason, though they’ve appeared in a few different literary journals. They’re all in a poetic form that I’ve been working in recently and that I’ve come to think of as a kind of millennial-haiku (or, for pun-related reasons, I sometimes call a “byte poem”).

Most Westerns know the haiku as a particularly powerful, condensed form of literary poetry that evokes a Zen-like simplicity in its imagery and language. But before Matsuo Basho, the hands-down greatest haiku poet in history and the man who essentially defined haiku as we now understand it, this poetic form was very different. For hundreds of years before Basho revolutionized the form in the 17th century, the writing of these little poems was basically a party game — a chance for a gathering of poets to show off their wit and word-play by creating long collaborative linked poems (known as renga), often while consuming more than a little sake along the way. The party’s host had the honor of kicking off the game with a three-line verse (called a hokku) to serve as the opening stanza, and would strive to make their opening verse especially striking, provocative and impressive. Eventually these short verses were circulated, read and enjoyed as standalone pieces, and their name was changed from hokku (meaning “presenting verse”) to haiku (“playful verse”).

Then, Basho came along and completely transformed the genre. These days, if you want to write incredibly-short verse and you want even a hope of getting them published in a literary journal, haiku is still your go-to form. Ginsberg took a stab at inventing his own short-form poetic style, called the “American sentence” — a single sentence of seventeen syllables, basically a haiku without line breaks. There are entire literary magazines dedicated to publishing only haiku and American sentences.

Meanwhile, though, something else was going on in American culture: someone created the internet, and someone invented the smart phone, and lo, the Information Age was born. The Age of the Tweet. While literary journals have continued to privilege haiku and American sentences as the very best of short-form poetry, our own homegrown organic short-form poetry party-game was evolving right in our pockets. The 140-character tweet, and the increasingly popular multi-tweet thread, are modern-day American reinventions of the renga and hokku/haiku of Japan — sometimes written by a single person, sometimes a collaborative pile-up of snarky comments, witty retorts and scathing satire snowballing in real-time with the help of catchy hashtags. What began as a fun way to communicate with friends has evolved into a public platform where, in only 140 characters, someone can say something that might change the world.

Enter: the Twit in Chief, who stepped into the Oval Office last November and refused to put down his phone. Now, there is a man who can feed Russian trolls, insult veterans, stoke racial tensions, denigrate women and even potentially start a nuclear war… all in only 140 characters.

As a poet, I find myself both horrified and awed by this demonstrable power of the written word. I wrote recently in a cover letter to Mary-Jane Grandinetti, editor of Shot Glass Journal:

I’ve found myself driven to reclaim the “tweet” medium as a place of power, to re-tune my language so that I might enter into that space and push it as far as I can, push it until it breaks open from the inside.

That is why, since last fall, I’ve been working more and more in the “byte poem” form: 140 characters, short enough to tweet. So far, only a few have been published — in 7×20 this past June, and now this month in Shot Glass Journal and Cuento Magazine.

Not that I claim to be a Basho, or even a Ginsberg, but I hope that, like the haiku, someday the tweet will be remembered for its potential to provoke, to surprise and to transform the world as we know it.

In addition to the pieces published by Cuento Magazine featured in this post, you can find more of my “byte” poems in the most recent issue of Shot Glass Journal.

Alison Leigh Lilly
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.

0 Comments

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Twice As Much Of Whatever We’ve Become | Alison Leigh Lilly - […] opinions on this, honestly — it was an arbitrary limit dictated by earlier technology which spurred creative work-arounds, but…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *