Is the World Ready for Twitterature?

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Online NGO offers contest to reward Tweets with highest literary value.

How ironic that North America and Europe can now communicate endlessly with each other, at the exact historical moment when neither has anything to say.

When the first transatlantic telephone cable was completed at the turn of the last century, G.K. Chesterton is supposed to have remarked "How ironic that North America and Europe can now communicate endlessly with each other, at the exact historical moment when neither has anything to say."

Until recently, many felt the same way about Twitter. Although hugely popular, for many it seemed to indicate nothing more important than that millions of bratty teenagers could prove, in less than 140 characters, that their brains didn't contain much worth sharing. Plus, advertisers seemed to exult that finally there was another way for them to inform consumers that they could make millions in their bathrobes.

Then came Iran. Election protesters there proved that Twitter can be an effective tool for social and political reformers to spread their messages quickly.

But can Tweets also have literary value? Many inquiring minds want to know. Two college students in Chicago are writing a book summarizing several classics in 20 tweets or less. Another group is trying to write original short stories in microblog form.

Members of the World Mind Network are taking a different tack. Humanity already has short poetic forms which are ideal for tweeting, they point out. Some of them are hundreds of years old.

Why shouldn't people be encouraged to create their best work in these old styles, and then send them into the ether, to compete with all the mundane tweets? They are offering a $500 prize for the best microblogged poetry. Some of the short poetic forms are well known, like limericks and haiku. Others have waxed and waned in popularity, like the clerihew, kural, cinquain, quintilla, and sijo. But all can be completed in 140 characters or less.

Details are on their website, TwitLit.net.

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John Toomey
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