Happy birthday Twitter! Poets rejoice — in 140 characters or less!

Posted: March 22, 2013

This is a huge day.

The Catholic Church of the Dark and Middle Ages printed festival days and saint's days in red ink. Thus the term red-letter day, meaning any day of special import.

Well, import this:

It's the birthday of Twitter, which first went live on March 21, 2006. Creator Jack Dorsey, who'd thought Twitter up in 2001 but hadn't actually created it until just that day, sent the first self-inputted (that is, nonautomated) tweet message: "inviting coworkers."

OK, it's not "Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you" (what Alexander Graham Bell is said to have said in the first telephonic message, to his assistant, Thomas Watson) or even "Mary had a little lamb," which Thomas Edison said in one of the earliest of all voice recordings (1877). But it was going to be big, very big.

Seven years old! Old enough for your first cowboy suit!

But wait, there's more!

And it's also World Poetry Day. Welttag der Poesie! Día Mundial de la Poesía!

What to do?


Tweet a favorite few words of verse.

I tweeted and Facebook-posted the following, from "Mayakovsky," by Frank O'Hara, via the wonderful poet/playwright Elizabeth Scanlon:

Now I am quietly waiting for

the catastrophe of my personality

to seem beautiful again,

and interesting, and modern.

I would have posted this, from "Blackberrying," by Sylvia Plath:

The only thing to come now is the sea.

From between two hills a sudden wind funnels at me,

Slapping its phantom laundry in my face.

These hills are too green and sweet to have tasted salt.

I follow the sheep path between them. A last hook brings me

To the hills' northern face, and the face is orange rock

That looks out on nothing, nothing but a great space

Of white and pewter lights, and a din like silversmiths Beating and beating at an intractable metal.

But that would have been too long for Twitter.

I tweet the body electric

Hmm. Let's do some math. The world's greatest poem, William Shakespeare's Sonnet 73 ("That time of year thou may'st in me behold"), is about 620 characters, so that's four tweets-plus ... you couldn't even fit in a gem like "A Country Burial," by Emily Dickinson:

Ample make this bed;

Make this bed with awe;

In it wait till judgment break

Excellent and fair.

Be its mattress straight,

Be its pillow round;

Let no sunrise' yellow noise

Interrupt this ground.

But you could get in the wonderful, notorious "So Much Depends," by Penn med school grad William Carlos Williams:

so much depends


the red wheel


glazed with rain


beside the white


Or just a line from a song ("There are places I'll remember/ All my life, though some have changed").

Or . . . tell you what . . . as a public service, here's a 140-character poem. You're free to tweet and retweet:

River meet river/lightning-kiss twice/Twitter born + Poetry Day:/Nice x nice./Message to cosmos:/Versify not curse/Twitter born 4 poetry/And poetry vice verse.

Contact John Timpane at 215-854-4406 or jt@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter, @jtimpane.

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