Sunday, 29 March 2009

On Twitterverse

I hope to return to some of the issues raised by Tapscott, Keen et al, but as it’s the weekend I thought I’d permit myself a little detour into reading for pleasure. And most specifically reading poetry. I accept it's not a widespread habit. Moreover most booksellers I know reckon more people write poetry than buy it. The relative health of the US and UK poetry book markets can be gauged by comparing the two stacks of poetry on offer at the Union Station Washington branch of R Dalton with W H Smith at Kings Cross London, where it is virtually impossible to find a single poetry book except the occasional Poems on the Underground or Forward Book of Poetry (even when the shop isn't halved in size due to the ongoing station refurbishment). But bear with me. Poetry reading lurks deep in my DNA, and I like to think there are wider lessons about publishing to be found via an occasional detour into verse. And in this instance, Twitterverse.

Last week marked two debuts for me: blogging and tweeting. And by a happy co-incidence it was also the week in which Ben Okri began publishing a poem a line a day on Twitter. Today is Day 5 and when I checked this afternoon, Okri had attracted 268 followers. Compare this to 11,776 for Cheryl Cole and draw your own conclusions.

I'm finding it hard to know what to make of Okri's experiment, other than its obvious role as a hook for sales of his forthcoming Tales of Freedom, in which Okri is said to be experimenting with the boundaries between short story and verse forms. (I'm presuming that as it is in the public domain on Twitter, I'm not breaching copyright by reproducing it here.) So far the poem reads:

I sing a new freedom -
Freedom with discipline.
We need freedom to rise higher.
Be true to yourself.
In the follies of our times.
Except of course that isn't how I've experienced it. The "follower" receives a line a day. If like me, you twitter on your laptop not your phone or PDA (uncool I know, but I'm over 40 and on a steep learning curve) it's likely that by the time you look, Okri's tweet of the day is already buried way down out of sight under a pile of pressing/ diverting/ informative/ amusing/ crass/ inane comments. And then there's the question: is a line a poem? It's certainly a reading experience of sorts. But not satisfying one. So far it has only been the fact that I know Okri's credentials as a poet and thinker that on reading a line like We need to rise higher I haven't rolled my eyes in pretty much the same way my 13-year-old does every time I open my mouth, dismissed Okri as a spent new age guru and hit the remove button. I might be more lenient if I felt Okri were writing the poem on a day-by-day basis. But based on the Guardian's report I think not. And I note that since Day 3 tweets have been sent at precisely 10.00am from Hootsuite, which presumably frees the poet from the responsibility of being online at the time.

Still, I'm in too deep to stop. On Okri's profile page the poem so far reads upside down, as follows:

Line 5: In the follies of our time. #benokri
10.00am MAR 28 from Hootsuite
Line 4: Be true to yourself. - #benokri
10.00am MAR 27 from Hootsuite
Line 3: We need freedom to rise higher. - #benokri
10.00am MAR 26 from Hootsuite
Line 2: Freedom with discipline. #benokri
5.30pm MAR 25 from web
Line 1: I sing a new freedom - #benokri
5.29pm MAR 24 from web

Looking at it like this prompts some insight into the nature of reading for pleasure. I find myself irritated that I have no idea how long this poem is. I can't flick through the pages and know at the outset whether I am in for a haiku or an epic. I'm annoyed too that I can't see the poem the right way up and without the interruptions of twitter rubric. Are they a refrain that the poet wants to be part of the poem? If so it's a dissonant harmony. I want this poem now. I want to see its shape; to make some judgements about it based on its form, its visual impact on a printed page (not scrawled on my notepad day-by-day). I want to know now whether it's worth spending my time and energy on - not at some indeterminate future date when the final line is delivered. Yet I'm also fascinated by questions like is this a poem yet? When does a poem become a poem? At present it's the poetical social networking equivalent of Bishop Berkley's table or possibly Schrödinger's cat. Does it exist, and is it alive or dead? Or has it even been completely born yet?

I'm exercised too by wondering when it is finished which way round will it be? I've never intentionally read a poem from the bottom up before (excepting perhaps Zukofsky's final 80 Flowers which he wrote hoping all of the relative juxtapostions of the words would resonate). So far this poem could work read from the top, but which is actually the bottom:

In the follies of our time.
Be true to yourself.
We need freedom to rise higher.
Freedom with discipline.
I sing a new freedom.
I find myself waiting to know whether tomorrow's tweet will add a new dimension to the poem and maybe tell me once and for all which way up it goes. Or sound like another throwaway from a second rate life coach. Either way I'll be looking for it at 10am.

So, I ask myself, do I like poetry delivered this way? No, not much. Will I be buying Tales of Freedom? You bet.

Twitter brought me back to Okri's work (and back to poetry after a few weeks off). But I'll be buying it in print, on paper.

1 comment:

  1. even in Tweetsville.
    should be possible
    the right way round
    and delivering a poem
    All the world's a-twitter,
    Write on, Sheila.