Saturday, July 19, 2008

The haiku of twitter

Twitter is addictive. Not because it's a way of babbling at all and sundry about the most banal and/or enigmatic things, but because it's a real challenge. Twitter messages, or tweets are limited to just 140 characters, and it becomes a game trying to fit as much as you can into such a short space. What I realised recently is that I find myself treating it like a game of blackjack, where the aim is to get as close as possible to the magic 140 without going over it, and these days, I do it almost without thinking. Sometimes I end up wasting, oooh, minutes trying to squeeze everything in. And it's obvious I'm not the only one. Warren Ellis is particularly good at it.

It's such a contrast to blogging, where I can just let the words pour out, and not have to worry about the page count. My early years were spent as a journalist and sub-editor, and word counts ruled my life. I would spend hours cutting articles down to size, and it was a point of pride with me that I always hit my exact word count when writing. (Which makes it much harder for an editor to change what you wrote originally, so you usually get your piece printed verbatim.)

Working within such a limited format is akin to writing haiku, the short Japanese poetry form. In the West, we usually think of a haiku as having 17 syllables, broken up as three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables each. It ain't actually strictly so in Japan, but what we developed over here was a game of working within those rules, usually . Like these.
A file that big?
It might be very useful.

But now it is gone.

A crash reduces
your expensive computer

to a simple stone.

Five men in a room.
Signing paper makes it so,
Never mind the facts.
(Plenty more here.)

Twitter offers some equally elegant models of succinct prose. Here's a selection of 140-character epigrams, some written by me, some by others.
Eat, sleep, edit movie, make bread, practice violin, play Final Fantasy, watch Assassination of Jesse James, not necessarily in that order.

"My war expertise is eating rats & getting cornholed by water snakes in a flooded paddy field for five years, but here's the plan, boys..."

Today I will make a movie showcasing new #moviestorm. I will. I will. Until my eyeballs bleed. Caffeine, chocolate and nicotine required.

When they started getting the middle-aged men to join in the bellydancing, we spotted our cue to make a hasty exit. The rest is silence.

There's nothing showing at the local cinema that I'd watch even if the only alternative was having Don Rickles' balls rubbed into my eyes.

Note to really pedantic pedants: Yes, the sun is always moving. And yes, it's not strictly "burning" my retina. And it's not slow. Happy now?

A proverb for our time. "Thou shalt not ninja thy guildie's loot." Or is that an aphorism? Who cares? It's beautifully eloquent.

The human spirit is diminished every time Coldplay release a record. Soon, we will all have the souls of slugs, and it will be their fault.

Please feel free to add your own examples of twitter haiku. Minimum 135 characters; fewer just doesn't cut it, I'm afraid.

You can follow me on twitter as MattMongoose.

2 comments:

Pineapple Pictures said...

I think, in writing, it's not necessarily about how many facts can be communicated, but about atmosphere. The most economical writing seems to explode in the head releasing emotion and images. Haiku, in sticking to the rules, often sounds compressed, is too caught up in its own format maybe? Thought provoking Matt..thanks.

johnnie said...

The Haiku Of Twitter (great post from @MattMongoose) http://snurl.com/32d9l. Now I need to find something else to say to fill 140 characters

That, my friend, is a meta haiku.