Twitter now has 554,750,000 active users. There are an average of 58,000,000 tweets produced per day. The sheer volume of language that is released into the aether via Twitter is astounding, and far greater than that of all published poetry combined. Twitter allows any two users to instantly enter into dialogue, eschewing cultural restraints. When it comes to disseminating information, Twitter as a platform is categorically unmatched. It offers the written word an immediate pipeline to the collective conscious. When culture has demanded it, Twitter has even served as a conduit for revolution.
The reality is, in spite of Twitter’s unlimited potential, it is a criminally underutilized form. The genius of the idea gets lost amongst the overwhelming white noise infesting it. Scroll through your Twitter feed now. What percentage of the tweets you see are either a self-promotion, a report of a mundane activity, or a link to something useless? What percentage are clever, captivating, mind-expanding, or novel? With the amount of language being produced each day, it is no surprise that the vast majority of it is vacuous. What surprises me, however, is that such vacuity persists even among the poets.
It is untenable how a group so attuned to the dimensions of language fails so consistently to perceive the enormity of Twitter’s scope. The development of Twitter marks an important epoch in the history of poetry; it signals the destruction of the line between form and free-verse. The 140 character restriction generates an energy that is both unprecedented and inimitable. Twitter has single-handedly presented poets with a medium that, if used to elicit real thought, could force a paradigm shift in the way writers create, as well as in the way language is consumed.
Unfortunately, instead of embracing this advance, most poets on Twitter choose to perpetuate the surface-level mindset that has led poetry so far from its source. For instance, Twitter is inherently self-promotional, so to obsessively self-promote is not only redundant, but also counterproductive. Yet it is the default state for many users. When we look at a selection of tweets from active poets, it becomes immediately clear which are worthwhile and which are simply taking up digital space.
Not only is this Michael Robbins’ tweet a backhanded brag, it is a blatant insult, and a thinly-veiled attempt to establish authority over his readership.
The unabashed irony in this tweet is staggering. Again, Robbins is utilizing the backhanded brag while attempting to display superiority over his followers. At the same time, he has the audacity to demand from them their sympathy.
It’s pretty obvious what’s going on here. Don Share has to maintain the delicate balance of remaining culturally relevant while having nothing relevant to say. He could literally be replaced by a bot programmed to retweet anything vaguely applicable to poetry culture, and not one of his followers would bat an eye.
It’s clear that the preceding tweets are failures. They fail because they do not engage or enlighten their audience, and they are utilizing language solely to dish-out trivial information or praise. This is antithetical to poetry. But if we were to focus only on the darkness, we would despair, unable to escape it. Thankfully, there are poets with vision, artists who recognize what’s at stake. Those who have mastered Twitter understand that a tweet is a poem, or else an integral part of one. They realize that not only does the process of tweeting create an oeuvre, it establishes a coherent persona. In other words, a master will have in mind a teleology. When we take a look at poets who understand Twitter, the contrast in quality is unmistakable.
Sparrow is able to say more with six words than most poets say in a week of tweeting. He is a master of the multidirectional phrase, exhaling original proverbs, intricate palindromes, and utterances of heightened thought that mock the mind’s inability to reach full understanding.
At any given moment, Anselm Berrigan’s Twitter feed is an onslaught of turbulent language. The genius here is how he presents his audience with language in its purest form–storming freely back and forth between conscious and unconscious thought.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that every tweet should conceivably fit into an imagined poem. Indeed, Twitter is equally an ideal platform for worthy jokes, puns, musings, confusions, and confrontations. What I am stressing is the primacy of using language with real intent; all other uses of Twitter are irrelevant. It is a platform designed for communication, but it is also the best channel through which to disrupt meaning in an attempt to reveal truth. On Twitter, the line between nonsense and genius is almost indistinguishable, and the distinction between pointless babble and conversation is even less clear.
But why am I heaping praise on Twitter when it is currently a blatant cesspit? It is because Twitter is capable of providing humanity with a limitless stream of language, wholly urgent and relevant, in real time. It is asking poets to step forward and take the reigns of this unfolding experiment in language, for poets alone carry the onus of failure. Language can only remain meaningful if we will it to better us. For words strain, crack and sometimes break, under the burden, under the tension, slip, slide, perish, decay with imprecision, will not stay in place, will not stay still.