The poetry of Twitter, or the significance of what you had for breakfast

Twitter: Millions use it to broadcast tiny bits of thought and notes about their days to other Twitter users around the world.

Some see these often inane and uninteresting dispatches as proof of Twitter’s worthlessness, but not Robert Bennet and Ben Leubner.

The two Montana State University English professors see strong ties between Twitter and some of the best poetry of the past century.

About 35 people attended the professors’ mid-April talk on the “Poetics of Twittering,” held in conjunction with National Poetry Month.

“We thought it was a way for people to see a connection between poetry and what they’re doing in their daily lives,” Bennett said.

Critics of Twitter, like political analyst William Bradley, say they don’t want tweets about a person’s breakfast interrupting their day.

Bradley wrote, “If someone … demands to tell me about their desire for a baked potato and a viewing of ‘The Singing Nun,’ I’m not too happy.”

But Leubner argues that a tweet about this morning’s breakfast can be about more than simply waffles and orange juice.

“We see something deeper in the idea of what you had for breakfast,” he said.

As an example, Bennett notes poet Frank O’Hara, who often wrote in a style prescient of Twitter, as in his 1964 book “Lunch Poems.”

In “A Step Away from Them,” O’Hara describes the sights seen on a lunch-hour walk: people eating, cabs driving, a bargain wristwatch.

“A glass of papaya juice and back to work. My heart is in my pocket, it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy,” O’Hara wrote.

“There’s this idea that art has to be deep and abstract and about Greek mythology,” Bennett said. “Yeah, that’s one kind of art, but not the only kind.”

Twitter is an appropriate medium for our fast-paced modern times, Leubner says, Plus, it can be a gateway to writing and reading poetry.

“You should take the material of your life and turn it into something interesting,” he said.

“There’s a real challenge to tweeting. You have to say something important and say it quickly,” Bennett said.

“Instead of telling the kids to quit tweeting and go to school, we should teach them to be more thoughtful in their tweeting,” he said.

Further reading: The professors suggest O’Hara, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and the beat poets as good starting points for “daily life” poetry.

Michael Becker always wants story ideas. Reach him at 582-2657, [email protected] or on Twitter at @superjaberwocky.