The New York Times asked four poets each to write a poem within Twitter’s text limit of 140 characters — title and author name not included. How does poetry meet social media? Can a tweet be a poem? Here is an insightful and playful response from Billy Collins, the former US Poet Laureate whose new book of poems is “Horoscopes for the Dead.”
The poem creates a space.
It hides in a tent in a forest.
Making its own bed it falls asleep in the dark,
wakes up under a lamp or the sun.
Here is why I like this: It’s a 3 sentence credo about poetry.
Aside from referencing the word Twitter in the title, Twitter Poem, I notice right away that the medium disappears. Any slashes / and colons : and @ signs used to emmulate the short-hand Morse Code are left out, the Twitter-ness opaque. The subject is not a new radio. Billy Collins gets to the work of poetry straight away, “The poem creates a space.”
Here, in the tiny space of a tweet, following the restriction to use no more than 140 characters, there is plenty of room for a poem to surprise, ‘It hides in a tent in a forest.’ This is an invitation. In a way, it is also a permission. We are included, welcomed and the poem is now going somewhere, reminding us perhaps a means of traveling. The poem seeks an experience, the possibility of living out of a larger arc in connection and relationship to a tent, to a forest, to day and to night, to the full dimensionality of the moment.
Clearly, something more is going on than flat lines used in sending and receiving digital information. Or could, even in 140 characters.
Still, by the third line and quickly running out of characters, the poem relaxes and takes its time, “Making its own bed.” Perhaps it is also an act of differentiating, “Making its own bed” by refusing to incorporate any coding or abbreviating, any shortness-of-breathe that twittering cuts out of longer thought and careful lines.
A poem can demand attention, can sing without forcing at all. Every word of the poem active and working, muscular in a way that symbols try to short cut. Poetry enters our minds and speaks to us on many different levels, so much more than how we push and forward data, “it falls asleep in the dark.”
The final line of the poem speaks to something stranger, an often hidden power in a poem. Here is a transformative experience, [it] “wakes up under a lamp”. The poem illuminates. The poem wakes up. Unlike an advertisement or a commercial or a pitch, there is no hawking of wares or buying and selling. There is no trying to do anything at all. Billy Collins uses a lamp, a tool to see by and to read by, drawing on something older than the electric wire or a wireless signal. Perhaps the word choice of a lamp also connects us to those who have read before us and perhaps even to those who will read after us when technology changes and reinvents itself again and again.
In the end the poem “wakes up under a lamp or the sun.” Do you notice the expansiveness of the last word? The outward attention? The eyes perhaps turning away from the tiny computer screens of mobile phones and laptops to the horizon or the sky? Do you feel any ease in your own body as you read it, as you say it out loud? Do you feel the pleasure and the spaciousness of “the sun?”
To do all that in 140 characters is to make a lot of decisions about what to leave out and what to leave in. To make it look easy, beguilingly simple takes nothing more than everything, a lifetime of reading and writing poetry.
Many thanks to Billy Collins for the pleasure of reading Twitter Poem. I hope it goes viral. RT @Billy Collins #tweetpoem
© 2011 All Things Bloom.