Of words and birds, Tweety and otherwise

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.

“Twitter for poets”: poetry and conversation in Identica

Identica LogoOver at Identica — the open-source, feature-rich microblogging service which I greatly prefer to the faddish Twitter — I’m collaborating on a chain poem with librarian-blogger Patricia Anderson. It’s probably still quite a few days from completion, but those with an interest in the creative process and/or in social media and micromessaging technology might be interested in following the poem’s slow progress.

Twitter users will notice right away that they’re not in Kansas anymore. Up until a few weeks ago, each reply to another Identica user had a Twitter-like “in reply to” link at the bottom, and you could only follow conversations by clicking backward from one such link to another. But now, as the official description of the latest version of the underlying Laconica software puts it:

Related notices are organized into conversations, with each reply a branch in a tree. Conversations have pages and are linked to from each notice in the conversation.

In the current styling, each nested level is a slightly darker shade of gray, so that a back-and-forth between two people resembles an inverted staircase descending into darkness. A perfect medium for poetry!

Actually, I had wanted to have staggered verses, which would entail replying each time to the other person’s earliest post in the conversation, but Patricia wanted to let the conversation proceed naturally and keep nesting deeper with each reply instead. The poem can end, she suggested, at the point where replies no longer nest. We’re not sure exactly when that will be, but we should have at least another week at our current rate of one or two posts per day. I proposed the topic: “in the news,” with regular images drawn from current, international news stories. You can see our conversation about the poetic conversation — the meta-poem — here.

This is, as far as I know, the first collaborative poem in Identica written to take advantage of the conversations feature, though earlier collaborations, such as this one between Carolee and Blythe, have been threaded retroactively. I imagine that when we’re done, we’ll repost the entire conversation at Open Micro, so I’m not too worried about keeping the thread free of non-poetry replies. In fact, I thought it was pretty cool when an Identica user from Ukraine — Kobzahrai, whom I got to know initially as a fellow member of the blues group — responded appreciatively to my opening sally about the strange mayor of Kiev.

Identica has a small but active poetry community, lured there by such features as groups and favorite notices. Belonging to groups such as poetry, writers, haiku, or lyrics can greatly help reduce the noise-to-signal ratio in your feed, because you don’t need to subscribe to someone who writes 90 percent of the time about Ubuntu, for example, just to see their occasional haiku. And while Twitter also allows you to save favorite posts by other users, only Identica notifies you when someone favors one of your posts. The six most popular posts of the day appear at the top of the sidebar on the front page of Identica, and a longer compendium of currently popular posts is one click away. And perhaps because we poetry fans are inveterate word-hoarders, we probably “favorite” things more often than other users, giving an impression to casual visitors that Identica is — as someone once told Evan Prodromou, the lead developer — “Twitter for poets.”

Incidentally, if you follow me on Twitter and are wondering why you’re not seeing my half of our collaborative poem there, too, that’s because I’ve elected not to send my “@” replies across the automatic bridge that Identica provides.* Most Twitter folks already struggle to make sense of a morass of atomized messages, and I don’t see any point in subjecting them to additional fragments. Twitter is increasingly about broadcasting anyway; “power users” compete to see who can acquire the most followers, with whom conversations will generally be limited to one-way exercises in “crowd sourcing.” If you want true conversation, group-enabled camaraderie, or poems longer than 140 characters (multi-authored renga? Ballads? Epics?) Identica is the place to be.

*The lead developers of Identica are committed to an open microblogging protocol, which if ever fully adopted would mean that users of competing micromessaging services would be able to subscribe and reply to each other without leaving their own service, just as we now do with competing email services. The people who run Twitter, like AOL and Comcast in days of yore, don’t seem to see the need to give their users that freedom, so Twitter is still essentially a silo.

Nature in 140 characters: microblogging from the front porch

view of my front porch in mid-May

For years, I’ve greeted the day by sitting out on the front porch of my 150-year-old cottage in a mostly wooded hollow in the mountains of central Pennsylvania. It’s a habit I began back when I was a smoker, I guess. Fresh from a hot shower, I find if I bundle up enough and cradle a thermos mug of coffee in my hands, I can sit outside even in the middle of January, though I might not last for more than 15 or 20 minutes on the coldest days. The porch sits high above a small, overgrown yard, which is adjacent to the woods’ edge, the headwaters of Plummer’s Hollow Run, and a small cattail marsh next to the old springhouse. Due to this strategic location, it’s probably one of the best spots for watching wildlife on the mountain. If I sit still enough, the animals quickly forget I’m there.

This daily habit of quiet observation is very important to me. Even if the rest of my day is taken up with busyness and distractions, at least I’ll have had a short period of attentiveness to the natural world to keep me grounded and keep my writing from straying too far into the ether. When I began blogging in December 2003, I had some idea that I would focus on religious agnosticism — whence “Via Negativa” — but within a very short time, morning porch observations began to creep in, and pretty soon I dropped all pretence of a focus in favor of writing about whatever popped into my head first thing in the morning.

In November of 2007, I started a new online experiment: using Twitter to record daily observations from the front porch. I unexpectedly found the 140-character limit a goad to lyricism. Like the French writers in the Oulipo movement, I’ve always been interested in “seeking new structures and patterns which may be used by writers in any way they enjoy,” especially those involving artificial constraints. I hadn’t meant to write poetry, but readers on Twitter began to assure me that’s what I was doing, and who am I to argue?

I soon began backing up these posts to a blog — The Morning Porch — and in July of 2008, switched from Twitter to the much more reliable and feature-rich, open-source alternative Identi.ca as my primary microblogging platform, though I continue to forward my updates to Twitter via an automatic bridge.

My main goal with this project, I suppose, is to excite curiosity about and appreciation for the natural world among other users of Twitter and Identi.ca (and to some extent, my contacts on Facebook, where my Morning Porch posts also appear via an application for Friendfeed, another micromessaging service which I use mainly for lifestreaming purposes). Both as a poet and as a nature-lover, I’m always on the lookout for opportunities to reach beyond traditional audiences, and not just preach to the choir. A loose-knit community of poets, geeks, and other assorted misfits has sprung up on Identi.ca, which is to Twitter roughly as a very cool party is to Times Square on New Year’s Eve. There are many more birders recording their observations on Twitter, perhaps influenced by that service’s songbird iconography, but I don’t consider myself a birder — I’m not particularly interested in keeping lists or identifying rare nonresident species — so I haven’t made an active effort to connect with them, beyond following those whose blogs I already read. There are also active groups of poets, gardeners, eco-freaks, and other compatible folks on Twitter, though they’re slow in discovering each other due to the lack of effective, platform-internal semantic tagging and group tagging — features I’ve grown used to on Identi.ca.

Oddly, perhaps, given its origin on social networking services, I haven’t installed a comments system on the Morning Porch blog. The posts themselves are so short, I guess I’m resistent to the idea of burdening them with commentary; if folks want to comment, they can simply join Identi.ca and respond there. Also, the platform I’m using, Tumblr, doesn’t have native comments, and I’m reluctant to commit to an external commenting system because there’s a good chance I’ll move the blog to a self-hosted WordPress installation at some point. (Tumblr has promised to introduce an export tool.) (UPDATE: The blog has now been moved to a self-hosted WordPress installation with comments ennabled.)

I hope to keep the Morning Porch chronicle going for at least five years, and I envision a synoptic nature book with one page for each day of the year, five paragraphs or stanzas per page. Since I hardly ever leave home, this seems doable. But it’s also fun to go back and re-read sections of the journal in the order they were written. Looking at my posts from last May, for example, one can gain some appreciation for the two great dramas of a northern Appalachian spring: the return of neotropical migrant birds and the leafing out of the forest canopy. In May, more than any other time of the year, the forest is a-twitter.


May 1, 2008
Roar of the quarry in my left ear, burble of a wren in my right, and in the front yard a catbird sits in the lilac, silent, head swiveling.

May 2
Two Jurassic-like things, both of them “great”: the call of a great-crested flycatcher, and seconds later, a great blue heron in flight.

May 3
The air smells of rain. A large robber fly buzzes into my weed garden and lands on the underside of a dame’s-rocket leaf.

May 4
The bleeding-heart I bought yesterday, still in its pot, pulls in the first hummingbird of the year: shimmery red gorget, grotesque blooms.

May 5
Bright sunny morning. A hooded warbler bursts from the white lilac; for a moment I think it’s a yellowthroat with his mask on wrong.

May 6
Full leaf-out is still a week or two off. In the green wall of woods across from my porch, the dawn sky leaks through a hundred holes.

May 7
Behind the lilac, the sounds of a fierce wood thrush altercation. A third thrush lands close by and swipes its bill against the branch.

May 8
Rain at dawn. In the half-light, the green is intense. Add the bell-like tones of wood thrushes, and the effect is other-worldly.

May 9
Rain. Have robins always had white spots on the ends of their tails? Yesterday afternoon, four eastern kingbirds in the field—unmistakeable.*

May 10
Two myrtle colonies are closing in on what’s left of my lawn. In the grass, the green fists of bracken open complex fingers to the rain.

May 11
Sunday, and one can hear between bursts of oriole song the creaking of wings, the drone of a bumblebee, a deer snorting a quarter-mile off.

May 12
Black-throated green: the warbler lisping at the woods’ edge, but also the woods itself, green-feathered, trunks running dark with rain.

May 13
Cold and clearing. The black cat pads up the driveway, coyote bait still in her belly** and the usual hungry, hateful look in her yellow eyes.

May 14
At first light, the silhouette of a hawk in a dead tree above the corner of the field. A small rabbit grazes in the yard, ears twitching.

May 15
Cloudy and cool. A tanager’s plucked string; no glimpse of scarlet. Where are they off to, the hummingbirds that keep zooming past my porch?

May 16
At 6:00, the sky grows dark again as a storm approaches. Wood thrushes start back up. The lilac’s white torches all point at the ground.

May 17
The same woodpeckers and nuthatches that we heard all winter, but with flickering leaves. The same wind as yesterday, but with golden light.

May 18
A black-and-white warbler’s two-syllable whisper; drumroll from a Good God bird. The clock is blinking—what time IS it? The patter of rain.

May 19
Birdcall like the chant of some demented sports fan: the yellow-billed cuckoo is back! The forest canopy must be full enough to skulk in.

May 20
A gray squirrel seems to be in heat: as in January, the slow-motion chases, the soft scold-calls, but now mostly hidden by the leaves.

May 21
Sun! I hear the crow that thinks it’s a duck, a catbird’s simultaneous translation of a wood thrush song. Last night, I dreamed of bluejays.

May 22
A male robin scours the forest floor for twigs; the female combs the lawn for dead grass. The small thorn bush shakes when they both fly in.

May 23
The gibbous moon no sooner clears the trees than the sun comes up. First crystal-clear morning in weeks, and I’m off to New Jersey.

May 26
Robins mating on a branch: one-second contacts spaced half a minute apart. Each time the male flies off and the female ruffles her feathers.

May 27
Warm, humid, and overcast. In the side garden, the first twelve yellow irises opened in the night. Small flies walk all over my legs.

May 28
The flower heads on the white lilac are half-brown now. Two phoebes take turns flying into the bush, momentarily quelling insistent peeps.

May 29
Clouds like scales on the belly of a blue fish. In the garden, ants immobilized by the cold cling to the sweet pink seams of peony buds.

May 30
In one direction, a singing wood thrush; in the other, a red-eyed vireo. Evocative refrain or dull repetition? It’s all in the delivery.

May 31
In the light rain, a squirrel feasts on red maple keys. Reduced to pieces, the blades flutter straight down, robbed of all ability to spin.

*A white tip on the tail is a diagnostic feature of the eastern kingbird.

**In other words, she was still pregnant.

“Teenagers loitering outside a sentence”: Teaching grammar on Twitter

This entry is part 2 of 20 in the series Poetics and technology


I woke up yesterday, the first Saturday of spring break, and found Victoria next to me, hunched over her third graders’ papers and humming.

I was about to tell you how good those papers were — how some of them evinced better voice and grammar than many of my ninth graders’ papers, in fact — and to expound on why I think most kids don’t progress much in grammar during the intervening years that lay in bed between us yesterday, the first Saturday of spring break.

But I just decided to interrupt myself, as I often do with my high school writers, and to remind you that you’re here as writers. So, did my first line hook you? And, if so, have I lost you by now? (Be honest. Are you still reading?)

And, dear writer, did you catch the syntax of that first line? A simple sentence [Rait, I think I know why you thought it was compound. Let’s see — what would be the second clause?  “And found Victoria next to me”? Well, what’s the subject of that clause?  Right — it’s not a clause because there is no subject. The sentence is a single, independent clause with a compound predicate. Fools me too, sometimes.] sporting a nonessential appositive and ending with a participial phrase.

We could talk about “hunched” and “humming,” too [“Is that alliteration or assonance, Mr. S?” “Hell if I know, George.”], but let’s cut to what’s really important: how many characters does my opening sentence have? Those of you besotted by Twitter, a micro-blogging and social networking service, probably have already intuited that my first line is bumping up against 140 characters, counting spaces — the mandatory upper limit of a Twitter post, also called an “update” or a “tweet.” My first sentence has 139 characters, in fact. (A lot of us often write on Twitter like we’re playing a kind of linguistic blackjack: how close can I get to 140 characters without going over?)

I’m teaching diction and syntax with Twitter because micro-blogging helps writers focus on words and sentences.

Twitter has gotten so popular — it is currently growing at a 1,382 percent rate per year – that I think it’s inadvertently making people slightly better writers at the word and sentence level. Even those who use Twitter for more mundane and solipsistic purposes (and that would be just about everybody) (“Cloudy here. Just scratched my ass.”) sometimes feel pushed to improve their dribble to increase readership.

If you want people to follow you, diction and syntax are part of the equation even if you’re writing in fragments or very short sentences, as many Twitterers do. Randsinrepose, a popular blogger, cites The Elements of Style and gives his fellow Twitterers a lesson in diction and syntax in his post “The Art of the Tweet”:

In my head, I’m cutting words from my tweet to give you room to mentally add your own:

BEFORE: If it’s 4am, I know how stressed I am.

AFTER: Stress is how well I know 4am.

Nine to seven words. Slight reorganization, but which says more to you?

Twitter can be a godsend to the close reader as well as the writer.  What if Dickens had serialized his novels on Twitter instead of in Harper’s or Master Humphrey’s Clock? He’d still be alive today, certainly, if he wanted to finish Bleak House. But, more importantly, what would his readership have been focused on with each installment, assuming they could have suffered having the plot so slowly torn from them?

Perhaps Dickens’s readers would have heard music in lines larger installments might not have slowed them down enough to notice. (Or maybe it’s simply the duty of a micro-blogging generation to slow reading down. My father heard his music at 78 rounds per minute; maybe I was meant to discover something different by hearing mine at 33 1/3.) Does a single sentence of Bleak House sing its own song? Here’s a sentence I found by clicking “surprise me” on the novel’s Amazon page:

Nor has he anything more to say or do, but to nod once in the same discourteous manner, and to say briefly, ‘You can go.’ (Bleak House 552)

The sentence’s two-letter words, monosyllabic words, and long vowels, combined with the first clause’s internal rhyme (which highlights the clause’s singsong meter), reinforce Mr. Tulkinghorn’s curt dismissal. How much of that did you catch in your college’s Victorian lit survey?

(Not all of Dickens’s sentences would fit on Twitter, of course.  Amazon.com reports, though, that the average sentence in Bleak House has only a hundred characters. Even Faulkner, known for his page-long sentences, wrote Light in August at a 79-characters-per-sentence clip. 140 characters are all a ninth grader needs to begin focusing on writing at the sentence level.)

Teenagers loitering outside a sentence on Twitter can relate punctuation rules and basic syntax to their writing, and they can discover how grammar can sometimes foster creativity. Conformity to a form, even to an arbitrary form, can do that. And young writers can learn the art of breaking the rules once they have a handle on the basics.

Before I describe how I use Twitter in the classroom, I’ll give you a précis of my views on teaching syntax and punctuation.

Basic grammar and syntax are like common Western music scales: they are not important in themselves but for where they lead the practitioner once she has achieved some proficiency. Sticking with the form, for instance, I’ve practiced composing complex sentences ending with the subordinate clause and without commas separating the clauses. When one of my writers uses a comma in that situation, I ask myself: is he aware that he’s outside the form? And does he hear music I don’t hear?

Why learn and normally stick with the rules of punctuation and syntax? First, almost all of the rules make sense, even if you might have written them differently were you alive to write those popular grammars two hundred years ago. Second, most of the basic rules carry the force of public morality, so I can expect that my audience is aware of them and will judge me by how well I use them. Third, not having to interrupt myself and explain why I use a comma is as joyous as not having to stop and explain an allusion or a joke. An audience’s grasp of grammar, then, is as beneficial to a writer as its overall cultural literacy (to use E. D. Hirsch’s term).

Nevertheless, deviations from our current rules governing syntax sometimes sing. We hear the music better if we know the rules and understand the deviation as such, because such knowledge adds nuance. Nineteenth century American writers, for instance, often inserted commas before subordinate clauses, before sentence-ending prepositional phrases, and, as Lincoln does below, before the second part of a clause’s compound predicate. In a letter, Lincoln prefaced his reasons for allowing blacks to serve in the Federal Army with this:

I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not so think, and feel.

Though the last sentence’s comma isn’t kosher today, it’s expressive. To me, it draws out Lincoln’s response to slavery and creates a greater emotional distinction between thinking and feeling. Blame me if you get caught doing stuff like that.

I present syntax as a means of making music and improving clarity and concision, and I present punctuation as a means of varying syntax. I don’t teach punctuation for its own sake, so I don’t present all the comma rules (for instance) at once. To do so would disconnect commas from good writing. At least, that’s what happened when I tried it when I first started teaching. (Only recently in my career have my writers started to make considerable progress over my wife’s.)

A good teacher showed me how to present basic syntax using a tree analogy. Sentences that start with phrases or subordinate clauses are left-branch sentences. (E.g., “If it rains, it pours.”) If sentences end with phrases or subordinate clauses, they are right-branch sentences. Mid-branch sentences include appositive phrases and other interrupters. (“Esmeralda, my best friend and confidant, heard me snore.”)

Now that we’re ready again for Twitter, let’s make my writers members. It’s easy. They create a username and password, and they’re on. The only thing I do out of the ordinary is to have them check “Protect my updates” when they sign on for the first time so no one can follow them outside of our class. They then set up their sites — they love decorating them and selecting an icon — and make and accept invitations to follow one another.

After we play around with some left-branch sentences as a class and learn the punctuation rules associated with them, I ask my writers to write a left-branch sentence on Twitter employing some word — let’s use “waffle.” The arbitrary word works as a sentence-level writing prompt, and it creates enough excitement and maybe competition in the classroom to get the juices flowing. (My writers usually come up with better word prompts than I do.)

“You have forty-seven seconds,” I say. “Don’t worry: it’s just a draft.”

After they write and publish their sentences, I have them read one another’s work on Twitter. “Pick two tweets to riff on,” I say.

In Twitter, if you mouse over a tweet, a “reply to” button appears, and if you click it, your next update will start with a link to the Twitter site of that tweet’s author. I have my writers use this button for only one purpose: to publish sentences created in response to other writers’ tweets.

I instruct my writers not to revise weak tweets. Instead, they are to create sentences in response to others’ sentences that inspire them. The resulting sentence may or may not bear an obvious resemblance to its stimulus because the second writer may have been inspired by one of any number of things, including the earlier sentence’s plot, rhythm, and structure.

This way, the first writer does not feel picked on. I am gratified that someone has been inspired by my sentence; I am not mortified that someone has corrected my sentence in front of my peers. If a writer finds a mistake in another’s writing, she is to send him a “direct message.” Twitter’s direct messages are private and are not shown with the updates that all of a writer’s followers can see.

I use a Promethean board — a brand of smart boards that help writing teachers focus on small portions of text — to display a Twitter site to the class in order to examine and celebrate some of the creations. We also “favorite” favorite sentences on Twitter by clicking the star that appears when we mouse over them. By doing that, a user sends a copy of the tweet in question to her “Favorites” page for all of her followers to admire.

You can imagine other directions an instructor could give a class of writers on Twitter to help them play with diction and syntax and learn punctuation and grammatical rules associated with particular sentence structures. (In fact, if you do, would you email them to me?)

I am loath to close (to employ Lincoln’s diction again). I was also going to develop here how obsessed writing teachers, such as my wife, can be and how the better ones often seem to labor in obscurity at the younger grades. I was also weighing an attempt at eliciting your pity for writing instructors in a sort of sub-plot, but I guess I’ll essay to do that over my long summer vacation.

Or maybe I’ll squeeze it all into a single, solipsistic tweet.

—Peter Stephens


If you’re on Twitter, be sure to follow Peter’s highly poetic updates. Some of my favorites include:

Speak comfortably to the mulch, son of man. This summer, butterflies will rise from grasses like brown leaves to heaven. (Dec. 31st, 2008)

The grave at sunrise. The grave buried in snow. The grave in recession. The grave at war. (Jan. 27th)

Rabbit: I tend my fire in the sun. Snake: I am the sun. (Feb. 26th)

Dogma falls crisp as hoarfrost, but hormones open new worlds. (Apr. 8th)

Still to come in this series, I hope, are guest-written pieces on typewriters, hand-made books, Twaiku, Facebook update poetry, Second Life, and more. If you have an idea for an essay you’d like to contribute, let me know.


Open Micro

Yes, I know my photo blog is down. Shutterchance, the host, sent around an email saying they had experienced massive server failure, and were working hard to try and reconstruct files. It doesn’t sound too encouraging. And I know that Via Negativa was out of commission for close to a day. My blog host and patron, Matt, suggested that’s because I had over 30 active plugins, and the server couldn’t take it. So I’ve been cutting plugins right and left and holding my breath. No more ShareThis, no more silly word count in the footer, no more Table of Contents. (Did anyone ever actually use ShareThis? If so, for what?)

There for a few minutes yesterday morning, even The Morning Porch was down for maintenance, which meant that all three of my personal blogs were MIA at the same time. Scary. What to do?

Well, create a new site, of course. Check out the new group blog for micropoetry, Open Micro.

Most people use microblog services like Twitter and its open-source counterpart Identica for updates on their daily activities, and that’s fine. Some people use them for hilarious bon mots — I try to follow as many of those as possible. At qarrtsiluni, we use Twitter and Identica to help disseminate news about the magazine and our contributors. There are even some novelists taking advantage of the medium, trickling out new work one or two sentences at a time — enough of them that a new word has been coined for the genre, twitterature. But some of us simply enjoy the challenge of trying to create complete poems or prose-poems within the strict confines of a single microblog post of 140 characters, spaces included.

There are actually quite a few haiku writers on Twitter, though of course not all of them take the art too seriously. But it was actually the much less populous Identica whose recent addition of groups sparked the creation of Open Micro. Some of us on Twitter and Identica had long been favoriting other people’s most lyrical notices and hoarding them in our Favorites pages (mine are here), but with the ability to create a Poetry group page came a new idea: wouldn’t it be cool if we could somehow combine all our favorites pages into one?

That’s essentially what Open Micro will do. We’re trying to be careful to get permission for everything we post, though this isn’t as onerous as it sounds, since any micropoem by a fellow contributor is fair game. The group will probably add a few more members, but what we really need now are readers. Stop on over! And be sure to bookmark it, so that the next time Via Negativa vanishes into the ether, you’ll still have something to read.