Saturday, October 10, 2009

Editing a Twoem

It started as something of a lark. L.L. Barkat, Eric Swalberg and I, with a little commentary from Bradley Moore, decided to do a poetry jam on Twitter. Only L.L., Eric and I actually participated in the first session; Bradley had to take a shower after cleaning out horse stables all day for a project at work (I am not making this up).

We had a great time, talked it up a bit, and then started making plans for the second. At some point between the first and second sessions, L.L. suggested creating a site to house the Twitter poems and do other “poetically related” things like recommend books; Eric said he would be up for setting the site up; and I volunteered to edit and manage content. And just that fast, was born.

Pulling all of the tweeted contributions together into some kind of coherent whole was relatively easy for the first two jams. The number of participants was three or four; we had gotten to know each other and each other’s writing through Twitter, Facebook, our blogs and email.

With the third session, things had begun to change a bit. From a contributor’s perspective, the “Twoems” (Twitter poems) are becoming wonderfully more varied and creative. And they’re also becoming more complex. More poet/tweeters are involved (a good thing), all write extremely and creatively well (another good thing), and all get involved in the jams in very individual ways (a third good thing and what makes the twoems so creative). But it makes for some challenging editing.

What helps is how certain themes will repeat themselves. In the third poetry jam, held Sept. 30, various kinds of fruit trees kept popping up, and I was able to use the idea of orchards to frame the twoem, entitled it “The Orchards of Desire.” For the last one, held Oct. 6, the phrases “ruby moon” or “ruby-red moon” kept recurring, and provided considerable help in editing the eight pages of printed tweets that became "The Poems of the Ruby Moon."

The editing process has its own mystique. I’ve edited a lot of documents during my professional career – speeches, news releases, articles and stories, even book manuscripts. But I haven’t edited poetry contributions tweeted on Twitter in a poetry jam. And it’s a collection of contributions that are made at different levels and different entry points, and with different perspectives on where things should go. And then you add our tendencies (including mine) to interject comments and asides, and it gets quite complicated.

What helps is to love the language. To see what comes from our poetry contributors, writing in short bursts of 140 characters, is absolutely amazing. Many of these contributions are startling, almost shockingly beautiful, and you just think “Wow!” when you see them appear on the screen.

I resist the urge to edit the words. That’s an urge common to all humanity, and especially lawyers. But I resist it. I may add a comma or semi-colon; I may move an entire line or two to another place because the fit is better. But I leave the words alone. I even leave the words of my own contributions alone, even if I see where I can improve them after the jam is over. That kind of editing goes against the spirit of a Twitter poem in the first place – writing tightly and quickly within that 140-character limit. So in spite of all my editing and structuring, there is still a sense of spontaneity – joyful spontaneity – about the finished whole and its component parts.

It’s tremendous fun. And more than that, it’s humbling and instructive to work with such talented writers.

(This article is also posted today at If you haven’t visited our poetry journal before, please do so. I hope you enjoy reading it even half as much as we do creating it.)


Maureen said...

Thank you, Glynn; I enjoyed this.

And P.S. to anyone reading the comments: Glynn is a master arranger of our tweets, no matter how slight the editing touch, and a wonderful poet himself. He's wonderful because, without knowing it, he can move us with his words, conjure up images that haunt hours later, and help us see what an open mind and heart can show. (Did I say he was good?)

Anonymous said... are g o o d !

when i first saw the heading on this, i thought, "oh no, here it comes...he's gonna say it is too crazy and that he quits".

i'm so glad that you are not going to quit! i just love the interaction and the words...and i am grateful for what you do.

thank you, glynn.