Monday, 5 March 2012

FB, Twitter and the rest 3: Petals on a wet black bough

Photo of Grand Central Station from here.

First the personal stuff, then the notes.

Twitter was the medium I resisted the longest. Do I care whether Stephen Fry is standing in a doorway or sitting in a chair? Do I care for the thoughtlets of Rio Ferdinand or the e-presence of the philosopher Joey Barton? Do I desperately want to be making remarks into the crowded void? Do I want that much company on tap? Do I want to follow people or be followed? To stalk or be stalked? That might have been the question.

Two key things changed my mind. Last summer at New Writing Worlds, the Norwich international writers' conference, a young Russian poet revealed that she had compiled an entire book of 140-character poems. Was this specious or interesting? I didn't think she, personally, was specious, so the clear alternative was that she, and therefore it, was interesting. But only in a remote way.

The second was the enthusiasm of my fellow poet in China, Pascale Petit. She felt it was a great way of circulating valuable information, not just in terms of the Arab Spring or our own dear riots of looting, but in distinctly cultural terms. Perhaps so, I thought. Then, why not? And finally, OK.



The form is genuinely interesting. Even with the recourse of abbreviation it imposes severe limits on what may be said. It is clearly not a medium for developing an argument or drawing a conclusion. Surely, then, it's just telegraphese. You could be telegraphese on FB, you could be so in an email, but you don't have to be. Here it is demanded.

But there can be subtlety even in a telegram. Peccavi, wrote General Napier in his one-word telegram of 1843, meaning, literally, I have sinned, though, wit that he was, his true meaning was I have (taken) (the Indian province of) Sind. It is an apocryphal story but exemplary in its way. It tells us something about the possibilities of translation, ambiguity and density.

Not every sentence has to be informative. Syntax is not a crude tool: it permits completion, incompletion, varieties of register, varieties of pitch and musical phrasing. It permits of density, association, enigma and echo. A little of it can go quite a long way.

Poetry and a wet black bough

There are short forms in poetry: the haiku, noted for its meditative depth; the distich, noted for its authority and firmness; the couplet, noted for its wit and crispness; and the quintain that can be quite elegiac. These are all set forms that may be explored within 140 characters. There is also Imagism and its flirting with preciousness but also its sudden sense of significance. I think of Pound's In a Station of the Metro: 'The apparition of these faces in the crowd; / Petals on a wet, black bough' which is almost, but not quite, prose, though prose-as-poetry may easily follow from it.

Notation: this thing is like that thing

Poetry, conscious of itself as poetry, is one possibility then. Notation is another. The Pound poem is high-level notation, though the word 'apparition' alerts us to the fact that he wouldn't necessarily speak like that. The faces in the metro might have suggested petals on a wet black bough without quite such a clear poetic invitation. And that might be attractive, after all. We don't necessary want to be laboured into poetry, not in a Tweet. And yet we may want to feel its possibility, just as we feel it in life. We understand that life presents us with implied significances we wouldn't wish to labour but without which life would be relatively empty. The same goes for language, even in a Tweet. The language need not be relatively empty. It could just notate away, raising the stakes with a properly light touch. You just have to listen a little harder as you write.

Remark, footnote, link

This is not overtly concerned with either notation or poetry. It is merely conversation conducted in public. It can be conversation with another person on Twitter, or with a circle of the like-minded, or with a text read elsewhere. The Greeks had the dramatic form of stichomythia in which conversation is conducted through single lines of verse. In Twitter this can become a colloquy. Or a combined commentary. The abbreviation of links is vital. Other people's reading becomes, briefly, a common text. And there is not only some great reading out there but some great readers.

Jokes in a vacuum, the absurd categorised

The possibility of one-liner jokes is tempting. You can make your quip and stand well back.Or you can create or enter worlds of the absurd, worlds that comment on the apparent logic of syntax by turning their backs on it to create a pseudo-order. Somewhere between Beckett, Ionesco and the nostalgic comic strip there is a subterranean network of passages that are a delight in themselves.

Revolutions or riots on street corners

The handy utilitarian communications of street and hide-out politics are well known. This is much the same as the telegram, but much handier. Run. They're coming down Kensington High Street is exactly what it looks like, no more than that. Politically powerful, linguistically less interesting, it is in itself a one-note register that can nevertheless be hinted at in other contexts where it remains a simple register but gains a complex meaning

Context, context, context

Despite all the above everything one posts or reads on Twitter is against the background of normal tweeting, that is to say on the edge of evanescence and inconsequence and it's as well to remember that. Best not have vast heavy ideas that would sink as soon as launched. But who knows, perhaps life is worth one or two sinkings? And being on the edge of evanescence and inconsequence is not necessarily to be evanescent or inconsequent.


So I will carry on for now, and hope to learn something in the process and practice of it.


Danish dog said...

All this reminded me of Borges' short story, "The Garden of Forking Paths", where the narrator takes actions that lead to a telegram being sent by others that convey his message.

Paula Grierson said...

'Li Po said to read poetry is to be alive twice' poem by a friend of mine
Not beat poet but tweet poet! Wonderful stuff !

Tim Love said...

There are also Six Word Stories. They're in the heavyweight Narrative Magazine too.

George S said...

Thank you all three. I have been travelling and speaking and still am, at least tonight, so haven't been able to reply properly, but I will look at your various suggestions.