Widgets Magazine

The power of brevity: Twitter and micropoetry

While writing about the phenomenon of Instapoetry (poetry initially published by writers on Instagram), I became quickly aware that the internet-poetry phenomenon was not limited to Instagram. One of the most intriguing forms of poetry on the Internet, to me, is the micropoetry featured on Twitter. What is micropoetry, you might ask? According to micropoetry.com, it’s a “genre of poetic verse which is characterized by its extreme brevity. In other words, a [micropoem] is a short poem.” This can encompass many different types of poetry, the most famous probably being the haiku. On Twitter, however, micropoetry is limited because of the word limit on the social media site: Poets must create works that are 140 characters or less.

To me, this idea of limited words is both fascinating and frustrating. It’s also not an idea that’s new in the poetry world. Fixed-form poetry has always had these limitations — haikus and sonnets, for example, are both supposed to be a specified length. But it’s particularly interesting to me that this type of constraint has spread to the internet, because I tend to think of contemporary poetry as being more free-flowing, without many rules in play to restrict it. The combination of the new technology and the fixed form a Twitter poet must abide by seems to me to be a sort of collision of two worlds.

When I took a poetry class in high school, we got to experiment with writing bits of our own poetry. The fixed-form poems we had to write never ceased to annoy me: The thoughts I was trying to communicate had to be done so in a very specific and constrained way. However, as I explored the micropoetry phenomenon on Twitter, I began to realize that there was something impressive and beautiful about the way that poets were able to express ideas when confined to such brevity. It was amazing to me the vast array of ideas that could be communicated with so few words.

What became increasingly clear to me was how important word choice was in the craft of this type of poetry: Selecting just the right word to communicate the emotion or experience you’re trying to is extremely important in a poetic form that requires extremely precise language. The largest distinction between the micropoems I read on Twitter that were extremely moving and those that just seemed to be a random compilation of words was the use of exactly the right words.

This precision in language reminded me of a quote from one of my favorite books in middle and high school, “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe”: “To be careful with people and words was a rare and beautiful thing.” The quote is so poignant to me because it stresses the inherent beauty in the words we have at our arsenal and the importance of realizing the power we have in communicating with those words. In some ways, I think this might be one of the most important lessons that micropoetry can offer to us: a reminder that words are precious and that we should treat them (and other human beings) gently.

In light of everything that’s been going on in our society and especially the political turmoil that has swept the nation lately, this is one of the things that has frustrated me most about our culture: how common it is for figures we see on television to throw around rash statements, trying to sound impressive by speaking with force and confidence.

But I think as we all know and probably sometimes forget, it is usually far more important to hear an honest and perhaps more concise statement full of words that have been mulled over beforehand. And this art of careful language is exactly what micropoetry on Twitter has the potential to foster.

Perhaps, I should tell my high school self to give the fixed-form poems a second-chance: Sometimes, the fewer words you choose, the more weight each one carries.


Contact Julie Plummer at jplummer ‘at’ stanford.edu.