Poets strip down language on Twitter | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 22.04.2013
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Poets strip down language on Twitter

Twitter, the social network where users write tweets of 140 characters, is changing how poets and novelists write. They are being forced to strip down language to its bare minimum.

"He thought he was indispensible," a poet read, "bad mistake. When she left him, she managed to open on her own. the bottle of champagne."

The audience attending the International Festival for Twitterature in Bordeaux laughed. The lines were being read by the poet on microblogging service Twitter. The social media site, which is considered indispensible by most celebrities, is being embraced by some poets and writers. They are using it to inspire their art.

The bare minimum

Franco-American tweeter Julie Mornelli is the member of a twit fiction group, which invents stories in ten to twelve tweets.

"It makes you reflect on how you can get to the point of what you have to say in a very limited number of words," she said.

Much like French chefs who work on their sauces until they are reduced to the minimum of ingredients, the writers have to bring down their texts to the essence. It's hard work because of the limited parameters, Mornelli said: "There's no way around it. That's what you've got: 140 characters!"

She believes it's good practice for people who write – whether it's fiction, short stories or a blog. "It helps you be more focused, choose your words carefully and weigh the meaning of each word."

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Twooshes are the new sonnets

Jean-Yves Flechette, a Canadian tweet poet, has published a collection of one thousand and one tweets under the pseudonym pierrepaulpleau. He, like many tweet poets, imposes on himself the additional constraint of only tweeting what they call "twooshes" - exactly 140 characters long. Twooshes are the logical continuation of a long tradition, he is convinced.

"Classical poets were working with very precise forms," he said, noting that sonnets have fourteen lines. "And if you multiply this by ten you get 140."

The most direct comparison with what the tweet poets are doing is Japan's 17-syllable haiku poems. But French writers have long loved what they call exercices de style (exercises in style). Writers of the new novel in the mid-Twentieth Century enjoyed inventing new rules for themselves. While the politics of that time were about freedom, literature written by authors such as the late Alain Robbe-Grillet was about constraint.

Novel on Twitter

But twitterature can also used as a playful way to test your own language skills. Writer Thierry Crouzet recently published his first novel, a 500-page detective story.

“It's a normal novel, but all my sentences were first published on Twitter,” he said.

There's a crucial difference to writers who publish a page or two every week in a newspaper, like 19th century English writer Charles Dickens.

People using smart phones.

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”It's exactly the same thing except that each stage is less than 140 characters,” he said.

The advantage of writing in this way is the readers' instant reaction, Crouzet explained.

Whenever they felt he went in the wrong direction, he got tweets that read "no, it's not logical." So he chose to continue the story in a different direction. Crouzet loves that interaction, he said. “I am the writer but without them I can't write.”

Written word revival on the Net

Twitter, like other web-based social networks, email and text-messaging, is part of what Twitter poet Jean-Yves Flechette calls a written word revival.

A few years ago, people would communicate by phone. Writing was mainly associated with activities like filling out cheques, Flechette said. Poets like him say they have observed that people today write like they breathe. Talking, they explain, is just a bit 20th Century.

Thierry Crouzet agrees. The young generation communicates in the written form a lot more, via twitter or SMS, he said. It's a double-edged sword. "The good news is that they write! I don't think kids ever wrote so much as they do now," Crouzet said.

The bad news is what they write, says Jean-Yves Flechette: "I'm listening to Lady Gaga," "I'm going out," "look at Justin Bieber's haircut LOL."

But as new novel author Alain Robbe-Grillet could have put it, writing, like anything else, is about practice. In the future, the world is going to have a lot more writers.

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