I’ve been playing around with a poetry form on Twitter, designed by Sam Patterson, @sampatue on Twitter (he’s a teacher and blogs about that here). It’s ten lines long, five words in each line — or fifty words long. Hence the name, and the twitter hashtag, #50wordpoem So far I’ve found them enjoyable to write.
I got into a conversation with Sam online, and another user, Jill Jensen (twitter user @GHSTEAMchic, blogging at ghsteamchic.edublogs.org) about some of the benefits of this form.
I’ve been enjoying posting them as pictures on Twitter; it’s impossible to submit them as poems of under 240 characters, but Sam has written at least one that also fits within Twitter’s character limit.
In essence, the form lends itself to chunking and punctuation-pauses in interesting ways:
- Lines of three words, comma, two words
- Two-words, comma, three words
- Two words, one word, two words
- Sentences of phrases of 7-14 words spread across two or three lines
- lines of five words that just stop, and don’t extend past that in either direction.
That’s the technical matter, of course. Not every poet is going to go that deep into metrical discussions; they’re just going to stick fifty words together and slap it against the (Twitter) wall and see what sticks. Other people are going to carefully choose and craft each and every syllable and pick the nuance of every word with astonishing care.
I suspect I’m somewhere between, though I’ll wax and wane as I experiment with the form.
You don’t have to think about that, of course. You could just focus on subject matter. Sam’s point was that fifty words was enough to write something every day even if he pretended he couldn’t write a chapter in a novel.
There was always something to say even if he didn’t have time to say it in his work. I’ve felt similarly about my obsession with sonnets and odes — if I wrote one, it meant that I’d written something that day. The day wasn’t a total failure.
I’ve posted three of these poems here, and I may post more coming up. These cover my first attempts with the form, though, and I want this to serve as a kind of record of where I started.
Some of these poems start off with a built-in title of five or ten words, or even two. If anyone ever cares about my literary output, I imagine that the poem below will be titled “Left lane highway closure wrinkles”, and maybe “Holy Saturday” will be the title of the poem to the right; they’re more likely to be known by their first few words or first line than by any title that I attach to them.
One thing I do think I have to think about, though, is how to make them available to a differently-abled audience. Usually, I try to use rollover or alt-text to make the image visible, ever since I learned that was a thing. But there’s a limit to the alt-text, too — the whole poem won’t fit, and how do you insert line-breaks so that it’s not 50 words all in a string?
It is a bit of a blockage, at the moment. I have to figure if I’m going to post these poems JUST to Twitter, or just here, or both. Posting to Twitter keeps me honest about trying to write one a day; and likely encourages a larger audience and performer-crew to develop a following. Posting just here allows me to curate to some degree. Posting both here and there allows both spontaneity and and curation — I can post instantaneously to Twitter, and repost the good ones here.
Currently, if you can’t see, you can’t read these images, and therefore you can’t read the poems. I’m not really in a place to transcribe them at the moment, or to copy-paste them into the text, here: but here’s three I did write on this computer, and which you can have now:
Gentle archaeology: soft cotton fabrics,
polyester zippers, strips of silk,
and finally the fabric scissors
emerge from the weighted papers
of annual taxation; my desk
and workbench slowly find equilibrium.
“We often are our projects,”
says my mother, “our legacies`
are things made, deeds done.”
I want more than messes.
— Andrew B. Watt
18 April 2019
rain patters on my roof,
singing songs — some Gregorian melody,
or some chant of Israel
older than Athens or Rome?
surely signs, or wonders, warning
or blessing, both at once?
No: beyond rain, spring peepers
sing the lilting chorus together
tuneless yet harmonic and hypnotic,
voicing a spring full moon.
— Andrew B. Watt
19 April 2019
a glance to my right
reveals — stolen breath! — green grass
that feeds my starved eye:
no color like it, ever
touched irises like this, today,
now, here, beyond the window,
where the cherry’s still gray.
The apple has pale buds,
but they don’t excite me.
Oh, forsythia! Must I wait??
— Andrew B. Watt
21 April 2019
[…] As far as I know, counting words—as opposed to syllables or other units of time—is a decidedly modern phenomenon, but still an interesting one, and I find myself working with this form quite a lot. I owe my awareness of this particular form to a blog post by Andrew Watt. […]
[…] thanks to Andrew B. Watt, for suggesting (in a recent post) the 50-word […]
What a fun format to work with. I composed my first of these on Tuesday: https://barefootwisdom.wordpress.com/2019/04/25/last-snows-melt-in-spring/
Thanks for the inspiration!
Nice work, interesting format. I use three word lines a lot. Might try one of these. Thanks.