Having counted the occurrence of words in nearly 3,000 poems published in Poetry Magazine to create a parameterised random word generator, I am making some other interesting discoveries about these words.
First, as one Twitter user pointed out, the words that come up at each “frequency of occurrence” setting on the generator have their own distinct feel, as if very different types of poets might gravitate toward different clusters of words:
In a reprise of William Shatner’s spoken-word rendering of excerpts from Sarah Palin’s Gubernatorial resignation speech, the actor of Star Trek fame returned to NBC last night, at Conan O’Brien’s request, this time to interpret Palin’s Twitter Tweets as “poetry.” Take a look:
Sadly, this is what so many Americans have come to believe is poetry: expressing the banal (“no rain, no rainbow”) with gravitas and, preferably, an upright bass and bongos in the background. This bizarre fusion — of beatnik hauteur, the self-indulgence of Twitter tweets, and the incoherent, wink-to-camera narcissism of Sarah Palin — symbolizes so much of what has gone wrong with our society’s appreciation of the four-thousand-year-old tradition of making art from words.
You can find me on Twitter now. Yes, you read that right. Me. On Twitter.
As many readers know, I have been a Twitter agnostic for years. Which are centuries in Internet time.
And yet, slowly, I have come around. It started with Goodreads, then Facebook. And today, I discovered enough interesting poets on Twitter (via a reprint of a list originally compiled by Collin Kelley) to reach a tipping point.
There’s not too much difference between Twitter and the IRC chatrooms I frequented in the early ’90s, except that Twitter takes advantage of two new developments: hypertext and mobile devices. But the concept of short, syndicated conversations is basically the same.
I am a different person now than when I was an adolescent trying on virtual personae through clever quips and emoticons. So, why Twitter now? I suppose I re-joined Twitter for the same reason I read and write poetry, and the same reason I started this blog: to be a part of the conversation — about poetry, and life, and what makes us human.
Can a medium so inherently distractable provide such insight? Can we get the news from Twitter, if not from poetry? Will the signal-to-noise ratio prove worthwhile? There is only one way to find out. Commence Twitter experiment number two.
“You could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you.”
After a brief experiment with Twitter, I concluded that the trend toward quantity over quality being perpetuated by social network status updates wasn’t for me. In fact, it seemed downright unpoetic. Then, thanks to Jeanine’s site, I discovered Goodreads. Finally, a niche network with a purpose I could get behind: discussing books. The only other specialized social network I had signed up for in the past was LinkedIn. But that was about work. This is about books. Delicious books!
I even went so far as to set up a private group for other students, faculty and alumni in the Pacific University MFA program. I figure this could help provide an outlet that is missing from the low-residency format — the opportunity to chat throughout the semester with other students about what we are reading. The results of that experiment remain to be seen.
Shortly after that, however, softened by my recent joinerism, I caved in and signed up for Facebook. It seems I am of a certain generation such that if I want to keep up with some of my friends, I need to be on Facebook. So, there I am — to the chagrin and relief of my wife, who has been reconnecting with friends overseas for some time through Facebook and and attempting to impress its wonders upon me (“Look! I gave someone a garden gnome!”), and a number of friends who have invited me to join up at various times. OK, OK, I’m on — happily reviewing books, posting photos, and turning friends into zombies. How did I ever live without this? Curmudgeon no more.
“Every word was once a poem”
In this so-called information age, we live among language more than ever before. For example, one of the latest fads drawing hype to itself faster than a black hole sucks light is Twitter: a web-based social networking site predicated on “tweets” — brief text messages uploaded to a web site that others subscribe to, follow and read. Thus, the blogging concept of writing for a perceived audience is accelerated to a dizzying pace.
All good poems, no matter their style, share this: an enforced attention to language, and some degree of innovation upon it.
I tried Twittering for a day, sending tweets when I changed my activity or mood. Between the web-based, software-based and cell-phone-based options, I was never disconnected from a sense that I could and perhaps should send an update in case someone out there might actually really care about the excruciatingly mundane details of my life. This is the fundamental promise of the internet, and social networking in particular: the audience that cares. It has been the impetus, since the beginning, for a mind-boggling number of words, from the early days of IRC and BBS systems to a shiny new rehash of the same fundamental drivers and mechanisms, which is now being called Web 2.0.