TEXT review

Poetic twitter

review by Eddie Paterson


Francesca Rendle-Short, Omega Goodwin and Marsha Berry (eds)
Poetry 4 U
School of Media and Communication, RMIT University: Melbourne, 2010
ISBN: 9780646545035
Pb, 123pp, AUD12.00
Online http://poetry4u.org/about: AUD10.00


We can’t help we were born in the narrative
Generation. Give in to the passing emotional
state. The future is a wet taste in your mouth.
Aden Rolfe (51)

In a New York Times article from March this year, Randy Kennedy discusses the flourishing of literary output on twitter. As Kennedy points out, while there might be a tendency to dismiss or deride newer forms of writing, such as the strict 140 character limitations of the twitter post, there is no mistaking the potential of forums like twitter to develop innovative work (Kennedy 2011). The question is: what does this future taste like?

Poetry 4 U, an anthology of ‘twitter’ poetry edited by Francesca Rendle-Short, Omega Goodwin and Marsha Berry, is an enthusiastic contribution to the world of ‘Twitterature’ and ‘Twaiku’. The project began life as an exhibition of poetry, as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival in 2009 and 2010. The best ‘tweets’, works of no more than 140 characters long, were displayed during the festival at Federation Square and around the Melbourne CBD, as well as being posted on twitter and as an online anthology. Indeed, one of the striking points of this project is the number of iterations beyond the book form, as its ongoing development will also include an iPhone app. Therefore, it might seem counterintuitive to issue an old-school paper version of the anthology, on which this review is based, when the project is so clearly engaging with new media. However, the editors are also clearly committed to providing poetry to as many eyes, and in as many forms, as possible. This scope and commitment is reflected in the content of this anthology, which ranges from quiet and reflective musings on the everyday to playful incursions into the fragmented syntax of the contemporary text-speak characteristic of our smart-phone existence.

The collection contains numerous works that recall the images and structure of haiku or senryu, the best of which manage to inject strangeness or whimsy into the seemingly banal. The work of Rafael SW figures strongly throughout, with poems such as:

Even after all these years
I still dream
of running (111)


We lay in bed as you
said the things we both knew
didn’t matter anymore (43)

These poems exploit the 140 character form, exploring a brief moment of transition, of movement and melancholy, before they fade from view. Similarly, though drawing on landscape and season as a primary motif, there are offerings by writers such as Amanda Betts:

Driving the highway
she envies the nature of clouds (118)

Ross Clark:

falling asleep
in your guest room
an unfamiliar window
frames the moon) (107)

Megan Watson:

Day crisp with sunlight,
chance view from my window stills
my circumstances (39)

and Eric Yoshiaki Dando:

I have no eggs to give you,
only sprouting walnuts. (67)

Each of these works, as with many others included in the collection, delight in the everyday, though in stronger work this delight also results in a final image that resonates with the reader long after the poem is read: an oddness that demands a second look. In Dando’s work we have the winter walnuts, in Betts’ an envy of the sky, Watson notes the window stills (so close to sill) and the mystery of circumstances, and with Clark the sly wink of the lone bracket ) signals the slip of the moon and the close of the poem. These moments cast new light on familiar preoccupations, whereas the weaker poems in the collection tend to telegraph their trajectory in a way that flattens impact. Nevertheless, Poetry 4 U suggests that numerous proponents of the tweet are also writers with an attraction to haiku and other classic versions of the short form. 

If I have a reservation about the poems in this collection it is that they are too respectful of tradition and not yet embracing the twitter form as a site for innovation. Such innovation is arguably present in the sense of play with which Aden Rolfe uses the tweet form:

You’d’ve seen if you’d/ tried & verb / not
tried to verb. At a party I ask what you write
& she is like: oh that is great. Drink? (59)

Twitter is at once social media, potential site for poetry, and a place for throw-away lines. In Rolfe’s work, the poem as a highly structured arrangement – put the verb here, the punctuation here and the romantic hero here – is knowingly undercut by drawing attention to the twitter form. ‘Drink?’, a final line that is dismissive and humorous (who wants to hear about writing anyway), points to the tweet straddling both the creative and social worlds. 

However, the inclusion in Poetry 4 U of the radical work of @netwurker more fully demonstrates the huge potential for twitter poetry to engage with the contemporary brevity and weirdness of mobile phone messaging, email truncation, and blog and twitter posts. Consider two anthologised poems of @netwurker:

view[W!] Lacement.
[p]Lacement wakes
from a s[d)L)[o[LI]iLED aeS[yn]thetic_scape.
sHe bleeds_heat_like_So[A]rr(as)ow[s]. (108)

w_oo[!] Ganic. [or]Ganic [t]winks
It cs u in [tu]Lip_shaped_heaps+dOve[r]
[pE]ta[l]ed[g]aping[s]. (12)

In these works the structure of the poems, and language itself, is simultaneously reducing and multiplying. The reader is confronted with a twitching syntax that reads, to me, like the hisses and pops of a fax machine sending its code down a phone line. Additional fragments and punctuation are wedged into a vernacular that is already abbreviated. That said, there is also meaning here – a play with character/chavacter – and a stuttering voice struggling to express itself: ‘oo[!]Ganic, [or]Ganic [t]winks’. The work of @netwurker gives a glimpse into the potential of twitter as a format for surprising and experimental work. These poems serve to bookend the Poetry 4 U collection, an exciting beginning, and point the way forward to further twitterisations. It is a taste of the future, which is both organic and oo[!]Ganic, and work that I hope to see more of.



Eddie Paterson is a lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Melbourne.


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Vol 15 No 2 October 2011
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Kevin Brophy