Twitter

fearless tracker

I use Twitter for a bit more than just Morning Porch updates these days. Three weeks of dog-sitting — and especially dog-walking — yielded a few insights, which I shared on Twitter because they weren’t really long enough for blog posts. Canela is an eight- or nine-year-old Chesapeake Bay retriever with a very easy-going disposition, boundless energy and an insatiable curiosity. We walked three to four miles every day. Anyway, for what it’s worth, here’s what I’ve been writing. (The first and last of these also appeared on The Morning Porch.)

Jan. 2
Dozens of juncos flit through the bushes. The old brown retriever that I’m dog-sitting watches from the porch, her nose quivering.

Jan. 12
Trying to teach sarcasm to the dog.

Before I can stop her, the dog wolfs down a frozen coyote turd.

Just back from a three-mile walk full of fascinating scats and urine samples, the dog falls asleep on her Dora the Explorer blanket.

Before I started dog-sitting, I had no idea how much I talk to myself.

The dog’s sleep is punctuated with sighs and episodes of labored breathing. She snores. She smacks her lips.

She rumbles like an appliance with a bad motor.

Her jaws move as if around recalcitrant syllables of human speech. Then she dry-retches and falls silent.

Jan. 13
I just complimented a dog for taking a dump. This pet thing is insidious.

Jan. 14
The dog appears to have two modes: full-on excitement and sleep. I of course am an Eeyore and an insomniac. What a disappointment I must be.

On a walk in the thawing woods, the dog smells everything. All I smell is dog.

Going out to pee in the moonlight, the dog stands gazing into the shadows.

Jan. 15
Having just circled the field, more than anything the dog want to circle the field.

You can’t circle the same field twice, as Heraclitus might’ve said.

Like a suburban kid getting a “tribal” tattoo, the dog wants desperately to roll in coyote scent.

Straining against the leash that won’t let her catch up to a porcupine, the dog whines and whimpers like a creature in pain.

Jan. 16
Ten minutes after telling our neighbor that the dog never barks, I hear her bark, left alone in the house.

So the dog doesn’t bark at people, other dogs, deer, ruffed grouse, rabbits or porcupines. She barks at the absence of all those things.

Jan. 18
Last night, I gave the dog back to her family. In the morning, two inches of wind-blown snow, and the yard unmarred by a single track.

From The Independent, a good article on the “The rise of Twitter poetry” in the U.S. and U.K., though as so often with online articles from newspapers, it is strangely lacking in links to any of the people it mentions, making it less useful than it could’ve been. And I question their decision to illustrate it with a photo of Benjamin Zephaniah, who follows all of four people despite being followed by more than 10,000, instead of George Szirtes, Alison Brackenbury or Ian Duhig, who are much better and more generous netizens. Anyway, here’s a quote:

Ian Duhig – twice-winner of the National Poetry Competition – wrote a tweet poem about the Bramhope Tunnel disaster: “They wove the black worm/ a shroud of white stone/ and thought it was nothing/ But the worm turned.” Would he ever publish his Twitter poems? “I’d have no problem using Twitter poems in a book and may well do in the next one,” says Duhig, whose Twitter poem “Yew”, is more romantic: “Each root of church yew/ reaches a skull:/ mistletoe/ for kissing above.”

The director of the Poetry Society, Judith Palmer, says: “There’s a renewed interest in the form of British poetry at the moment and the constraints of the 140-character limit play to that, in the same way as the 14 lines of the sonnet or the 17 syllables of the haiku. Twitter poems tend to be playful and are often collaborative, but they’re also good for ‘Imagist’-style observation, or philosophical musing. They can reach a wide audience in moments but they’re also ephemeral, evaporating pretty as the Twitter-feeds roll relentlessly on.”

Read the rest.

Singular – a poem and comments“:

Natural disasters (and I don’t discount the possibility that human actions in terms of climate change might have been a contributing factor) are different from war. In war there are sides. There are no sides in natural disasters. We are all on the same side. It is not this or that human action we are looking to enter, but the great familiar yet unknown: our sense of being in a world that is not comprehensible to our consciousness.

[…]

The question of evanescence. Why bother with a medium [Twitter] that eats itself as soon as arrived. Why insert these texts (poems, anecdotes, enigmas, proverbs, incidents) into the fabric of general conversation? This perhaps is the most pertinent question in respect of literature. I would argue that evanescence is our human lot and that even literature takes its place among the other activities of life. I can save the texts of course, but their very nature is to be born out of immediate obsolescence. It is not so much a question of what it is like to be within that immediate obsolescence but what it is to have been within it then moved out. I don’t really know the answer to that.

  1. It’s superficial. Surfaces are beautiful and necessary, especially to us primates with our extreme reliance on vision.
  2. Chaucer Doth Tweet.

  3. Enforced concision has a way of sorting the sheep from the goats where writers and humorists are concerned.
  4. (more…)

Read the whole series on Storify (and be sure to check out the Pro Publica report Cole links to at the end, which is both thorough and non-ideological).

Teju Cole has gotten big on Twitter the right way (in my humble view): using Twitter as a creative medium. His growing follower count is an indication that there’s a real hunger for this kind of thing; I do hope more writers will follow his lead. While I’ve personally grown a little weary of his relentlessly grim small fates, there’s no denying their literary quality and inventiveness. And I do love his occasional Twitter essays (or whatever you want to call the above, which is less polemic but more devastating than its predecessors). A just-published essay, “Twitter>The Novel? @tejucole>Teju Cole?” by Sam Twyford-Moore cites and quotes from a couple of Cole’s other Twitter essays, in case you missed them.

This entry is part 20 of 20 in the series Poetics and technology

Today is the fifth birthday of The Morning Porch. I thought I’d mark the occasion by sharing some lesser-known facts about the blog and my daily writing practice.

1. You’d think that this discipline would have made me a better, more assiduous devoteee of the early morning hours, but if anything, it’s been the opposite. I was a very early riser when I started back in 2007, as my first entry attests. Now I sometimes sleep in so late, I’m lucky to get out on the porch before noon. In my defense, there’s no doubt that waiting at least for daylight, if not late-morning warmth, does give one a lot more to write about in terms of (for example) bird and insect activity. But I can’t really claim that’s the motive for my increasingly late-rising tendencies.

2. I was very skeptical about Twitter when it got started, and felt like a relative late-comer to the platform when I finally joined five years ago. I had two ideas in mind: use the 140-character limit to literary advantage, and use the novelty of what I was doing to spread interest in nature among ordinary internet users. For most of the past five years, I’ve been very poor about using Twitter to communicate, and for several years, I was barely on it at all, preferring the open-source alternative Identica. I still feel guilty about using a social platform for broadcasting, but I just find Twitter awkward for carrying on a conversation. Part of that is because:

3. When I’m not forcing myself to be concise, I’m actually very long-winded. Browse the first couple of years of Via Negativa if you don’t believe me.

4. And I guess the other reason I’ve never really taken to Twitter is I don’t own a mobile device of any kind, and therefore don’t use an app. I interact with Twitter exclusively from the web interface.

5. I am still not sure that The Morning Porch is a particularly good fit for Twitter. I do follow some other people who use Twitter for literary purposes, of course. (One curent favorite: British poet George Szirtes’ surrealist microfiction.) But my personal favorite twitter feeds are the humorous ones, the purveyors of pop-culture snark and whimsy such as KimKierkegaardashian and Your Life Coaches. Above all, I think Twitter was made for such displays of wit. Which is why I’m never too bothered by the occasional negative reaction to The Morning Porch: people accustomed to a steady diet of snark who encounter retweets of my posts must find the sincerity and attention to nature really jarring. I think I would.

6. I’m still inordinantly proud of the fact that my Twitter feed made a sports writer’s list of Worst of 2010 at the Gawker media site Deadspin. With fewer than 3000 followers at the time, it felt like a real honor, albeit a perverse one, to be singled out as the worst feed on all of Twitter! Evidently the dude thought my use of common names such as “mourning dove” was a literary affectation.

7. From the beginning, I’ve archived my tweets at a blog, but for the first couple of years, I used Tumblr. I migrated it to a WordPress installation to take advantage of plugins and features that give better access to the archives, such as tagging (which didn’t exist on Tumblr at the time) and especially the “on this date” column in the sidebar, which fills me with geekish delight.

8. Though I don’t really think of The Morning Porch as poetry, a lot of other people do, and I’m fine with that. At one time, I was part of an active community of poets exploring the microblog medium on Identica, where I coined the term “micropoetry” to describe what we were doing. The irony is that I don’t actually think I’m very good at haiku or other types of short-form poetry. Writing haiku is hard, and I’m not sure I’ll ever have the knack for it, though that won’t stop me from writing and sharing the things from time to time.

9. Writing The Morning Porch is as much or more about the writing than it is about the observing, but my most successful posts over the years have been those I’ve composed in my head, while sitting on the porch, rather than those I’ve composed inside at the keyboard. My usual approach is to try to stuff at least two observations into each post and rely on the relationship between them to do most of the literary work, augmented by as much alliteration and assonance as I can muster. If you go through the archives, you’ll notice that metaphors are very thin on the ground.

10. Apparently a lot of readers suffer from the misapprehension that I’m a good naturalist; I’m not. I was raised in a nature-loving family, so of course some of that rubbed off on me, but when I was growing up I was actually somewhat in rebellion against the family culture — especially what I saw as the obsessive compulsion to identify everything. I felt that assigning a name to a creature put it in a conceptual box that kept us from seeing it as it truly was. Also, I was very lazy about looking things up — and still am. But writing The Morning Porch has forced me to become more disciplined about it. So if you’ve ever wondered “How does he know all that stuff?” the answer is I don’t — not always. Many times I have an idea, or several ideas, and have to rush inside to consult field guides and the internet. And sometimes those names turn out to be poetic enough that a mere roll-call comes to resemble a poem.

11. I almost never use binoculars. I just don’t like them.

12. One of my biggest disappointments is that more people on Twitter haven’t followed my lead and begun tweeting what they see from their own front porches or stoops. Despite what I said above about preferring witty Twitterers, I’d also love to read other porch sitters, especially if they’re in urban and suburban environments filled with colorful specimens of humanity.

13. Completing five years of a daily journal may seem like an admirable achievement, but it doesn’t really compensate for the fact that to me, my front yard is a landscape of loss. Gone is the big, spreading butternut tree that once shaded it, the focus of an earlier, short-lived chronicle from the porch. It fell victim to a canker that threatens the very survival of the species. This puts me in mind of all our other tree species under threat from non-native blights and insects, such as the eastern hemlock (hemlock woolly adelgid), American beech (beech bark disease), and white ash (emerald ash borer) — all of them common trees here on the mountain. The dead elm tree recently truncated by Sandy was very much alive when I started writing the Morning Porch; it fell victim to Dutch elm disease and died in less than two years. It snapped off a few feet above the flicker nest-hole, which reminds me of that little domestic tragedy (nestlings eaten by a black snake) every time I look at it. The ornamental cherry beside the porch, now reduced to a tall cluster of limb-stumps, was also alive in 2007. It fell victim to a native disease, black knot. It was never a great tree, but I miss its messy sprays of blossoms in the spring, and the way it served as a bird-perch all year long. And finally, the dog statue next to the lilac, which may well mark the grave of some forgotten family pet from 80 or 100 years ago, was smashed when the top of the elm blew over.

14. I guess this doesn’t really qualify as a lesser-known fact, but: I really don’t get off the mountain much. So in a certain sense, writing The Morning Porch amounts to making lemonade out of a lemon. I suppose I could claim that some mornings, my porch-sitting feels more rewarding than a journey of a thousand miles. And it does! But many other mornings, it’s just kind of humdrum, you know? And at those times, I don’t feel as if I have anything especially original to share. But I do it anyway.

15. Doing The Morning Porch has made one thing very clear to me: I don’t take writing as seriously as many of my peers. When I discover, as I often do, that I’ve repeated myself and used the very same image or analogy for some critter as the previous time I wrote about it, I tend to be amused rather than depressed at the limits of my imagination. And I have no trouble acknowledging the truth behind the accusation that The Morning Porch can be a bit formulaic:

But it’s not just the product; it’s the process. And part of the process, for me at least, involves growing so sick of one’s own words, one lurches in a new direction from time to time and inadvertently produces something brilliant.

16. When I started, my goal was to keep it going for five years. I am not a very goal-oriented person, to put it mildly, so the fact that I’ve made it astonishes me. What I didn’t anticipate was that it would become a source of writing prompts for a number of talented poets, and that one of them would become a co-author at Via Negativa, driven by the much more impressive goal of writing a poem every day, no matter what. Luisa’s been at it for nearly two years now! That alone makes me feel as if I should keep doing this Morning Porch thing as long as I can. If nothing else, it will force me to get my ass out of bed before noon.

Poetry Daily: “Engagement,” by Adam Sol
I admire how the title and the last line take this political poem to a higher plane.

The explosion will exceed the necessity of the occasion.
The exchange of fire will be unbalanced.
The response will be disproportionate.
The reporter is factually incorrect, theoretically misinformed, morally reprehensible.

LancasterOnline.com: “Where have all the bats gone?”
An update on white-nose syndrome in Pennsylvania (and throughout the east). It seems that while colony-living bats in North America are all going to become endangered if not extinct, the more solitary bats will probably be fine.

The Christian Science Monitor: “Reports: Lax oversight, ‘greed’ preceded Japan nuclear crisis”
No real surprise here, but sad nonetheless.

I am: A Twitter Poem by Pär Thörn
Not a set text, but a constantly updating scroll of new Twitter posts beginning with the words “I am” — rather mesmerizing to watch. Here’s a sample I just collected before it disappeared back into the ether:

i am truly blessed
I am nothing to be played with
I am excited to start.
I am so glad he will get voted
i am on i post something den dipset
I am crazy.

NewScientist: “Biology’s ‘dark matter’ hints at fourth domain of life”

The facts are that there is lots of genetic diversity, and unquestionably most of it is unknown to us. It’s legitimate to consider that there’s genuinely new stuff out there.

The Australian: “Japan syndrome shows why we need WikiLeaks”

Unfortunately, all this information, including the original cables, was released only this week, through The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian newspapers in Britain. If publicised earlier it might have increased public pressure on the Japanese government to do more to ensure the safety of reactors.

But without WikiLeaks most of it probably never would have seen the light of day. One of the justifications governments use for not releasing information is to avoid “unnecessary” fears.

Allen B. Downey: “The Tyranny of the Extroverts”
An old essay that an Identi.ca contact just linked to on his status.net microblog. (Side note for all you Twitter fanboys and girls: This is what you can do on a federated microblogging system, subscribe to someone on one service while using another service. Pretty nifty, eh?) It links to another, similar piece from the Atlantic, but this one’s more quotable, e.g.:

If “interpersonal skills” really means skills, then I can’t object, but I’m afraid that in the wrong hands it means something more like “interpersonal style”, and in particular it means the style of extroverts. I have the same concern about “communication skills.” People have different styles; if my style isn’t the same as yours, does that mean I lack skills?

As for teamwork, well, I’m sure there are some problems that are best solved with collaborative, active learning, but I am equally sure that there are problems you can’t solve with your mouth open.

America.gov: “Japan Proves Truly ‘A Friend Indeed’ After Hurricane Katrina
Now it’s our turn.

Poetry Daily: Two Poems by Elaine Equi
There is a right way to write didactic poems, and Equi shows how.

Work to abolish
the most abject poverty of all—

that of knowing
only one world.

Are you a silo blogger? By that I mean: does no one ever link to you or comment on your posts? Well, I doubt it. Because if that were the case, you probably wouldn’t be reading this, either. Or if you did read it, you wouldn’t leave a comment with your name linking to your blog, because then I’d know about it and there’s a chance I’d go read it — and you wouldn’t want that, would you? The next thing you know, we might get into this weird relationship where we’d feel compelled to read each others’ blogs on a regular basis. You might have to learn how to use Google Reader, and be tempted then to subscribe to other blogs, taking valuable time away from your real work, which is the crafting of perfect poems, essays or novels. Pretty soon you might have a hard time continuing to keep your sidebar free of such clutter as links to other blogs, or (god forbid) one of those awful widgets with the avatars of other bloggers in it. You need that space to link to all your publications elsewhere on the web.

Remember, the blog is your space, a tool for leveraging your personal brand, as I’m sure your agent has told you. Like a real silo, its sealed environment is integral to its purpose as an efficient storage space for fermented fodder — the blog archives. And while you can use your blog to share some original content now and then, be careful with that because most literary magazines — your real destination — don’t like to see content replicated until after they publish it. They want their poems to be virgins! So try and restrict yourself to sharing news about your writing, with the occasional link or embedded video to show off your wide-ranging intellect.

Now, none of this should be construed to mean that you shouldn’t be social. Quite the contrary! Social networks are invaluable for making connections with editors and publishers and possibly even meeting a few readers — in short, advancing your brand. Consider joining Facebook and sharing your blog content there, so that if people really feel compelled to comment on that announcement of your upcoming book signing, they can do so on Facebook and keep your blog silo clean as a whistle.

There is a danger, though. If you start finding yourself getting sucked into conversations that have nothing to do with you and your writing, then you might legitimately question your involvement in this too-social network with its birthday announcements and silly online games. Remember, you are a serious writer! The web is little more than a distraction machine, with none of that hallowed hush that one finds in books and the better magazines.

So if Facebook becomes too much, I advise abandoning it and trying Twitter instead. Some of the most famous and important writers are on Twitter, and the reason is simple: you can amass way more than the 5,000 friends permitted on Facebook. Plus, on Twitter they’re called followers, which is a much better description of what you’re looking for. And whereas on Facebook you may find that constantly sharing links to your own content alienates people (take it from me), on Twitter, it’s considered weird not to link to everything you do. Best of all, for your purposes as a silo blogger, conversation is kept to a minimum, and hardly anyone ever clicks on links. It’s perfect!

I have a real post coming, honest! But in the meantime, I have to share a couple of the web goodies I’ve come across in the last few days.

I and the Bird #133 is a treasure-trove of extended literary quotes, mostly from poems. You almost don’t have to click the links (though of course you should.) The host this time is Matthew Sarver, a fellow Western Pennsylvanian with serious naturalist chops and a gift for writing and photography. He’s still in his first year of blogging, but he seems to have taken to it like a duck to water. I and the Bird, in case you’re unfamiliar with it, is a hugely successful, bi-weekly blog carnival about birds and birding — our original inspiration at the Festival of the Trees.

Matt’s one of many birdwatchers on Twitter now — the medium seems like a great fit for birders, and not just because of the avian iconography — and it was on Twitter that I caught the news about Matt’s edition of IATB as I was doing a quick check through the five accounts I maintain there. Yes, five, and I neglect than all! But I’m primarily still focused on Twitter (and Identi.ca) as a medium for micropoetry.

Back when I first started tweeting my Morning Porch entries in November 2007, one of the relatively few Twitterers then sharing haiku was @tinywords, the feed for a daily haiku site with quite a few followers. Then it fell silent in July 2008. Well, just last week I noticed a tweet from @tinywords announcing that tiny words the website was going to start back up, and I clicked through to find a brand new site. And this time, the editor has broadened the focus:

tinywords is now accepting submissions for issue #1. This issue will be edited by tinywords publisher d. f. tweney and will be published, one poem per day, starting December 1.

I’m looking for very short or micro poems of no more than 5 lines, and ideally less than 140 characters. This could include haiku, senryu, tanka, cinquains, or other forms.

Longer works (e.g. haibun) will also be considered if they include a very short poem that can be excerpted.

I’m also interested in artwork and/or poem-artwork combinations (e.g. haiga) that could fit with the theme of miniature poetry.

I’ll accept submissions for a 2-week period only, from November 10-24.

It’s great to see new venues for micropoetry popping up. Tiny words joins Fiona Robyn’s A Handful of Stones and the group blog I contribute to, Open Micro. There’s also an entirely Twitter-based microjournal called Seven By Twenty. And there are quite a few individual purveyors of micropoetry on Twitter these days.

Now, it’s easy to dismiss this efflorescence of short-form verse on the web as pandering to the fractured attention spans endemic to a distraction-rich media environment. There may be some truth to that. But my idea with the Morning Porch was always to try to make people stop for a moment and go “Huh,” and to the extent that I’ve succeeded there — and led others to begin using Twitter and Identi.ca for similar purposes — I count it a success. More than that, poets have been writing various forms of micropoetry for centuries, and why? Because it turns out to be an exceptionally good way to focus the attention. What words are really necessary? What dazzling metaphor has to remain implicit if we are to capture the whole mood? I love the way my Twitter-inspired microprose-poetry discipline forces me to grapple with these questions every morning.