The living Twitter poem can be found at: https://twitter.com/BellsTroll
For Whom the Bell Trolls
This poem/essay was started in March of 2019 for a online class in Digital Storytelling. It started as a thread about the political language of TV pundits, both its horrific emptiness and ineffectual understatement. Then I started to explore the opportunities of the medium I chose (Twitter) and started gathering more multi-media content for the poem and incorporating the theme of Internet trolls.
There were many challenges to launching a Twitter poem. First, I had to set up multiple accounts (no easy task in the post-Putin, election-tampering era). I needed six accounts to pull off the poem (with all its characters) and I had to do some creative problem solving to make that happen. Twitter Bots were historically used by writers and artists in exploring automated content (here's a whole article about Literary Bots), but were recently co-opted for disseminating nefarious political propaganda. Although I wasn't using Bots, Twitter has since clamped down on any account creation deemed suspicious. All my new accounts were so deemed.
Posting also presented a challenge as I was creating conversations between all of my accounts. How to do this with one browser? I tried opening various browsers, going incognito in browser tabs, and opening and closing accounts after each comment. It got hairy.
I also needed to learn about posting order on Twitter for both main posts and comment post seen from various accounts (all which required testing) and to consider how Twitter was created to be consumed (most recent content on top, lesser on the bottom) and how readers are actually reading Twitter (from top to bottom, not starting with the first Tweet) and how I might misuse Twitter to display a vertical poem (by posting it backwards). All the idiosyncrasies had to be tested and planned for.
There was also the challenges of poem tampering. Akk! Conversation is what Twitter was built to do. How would such interaction alter and affect my pristine poem? I realized soon enough that it couldn't stay pristine. It would soon fall victim to graffiti. In that case, major threads might be lost to spam, trolls and "all the things to be said." So I created an archive strategy from the first day of building out the poem. I saved screenshots of each post, comment and profile on this archive page.
All these challenges created layers of difficulty and timing to execute, which meant I had to pre-plan the full poem; I had to pre-plan each day; and I had to pre-plan each post with comments. It took about a half-hour a day to execute over about 19 days.
Then I had to deal with mistakes, not just the mistakes I was intentionally making (posting everything backwards in Twitter Time), but things I missed or forgot to add. You can't go back and delete or reinsert images or tweets on Twitter. You can only un-thread back to the mistake like a sweater and build it back up, which if the error happened days past meant the loss of timestamps for all those days. Fixing one mistake would cause other mistakes! Akk! I had to learn to accept mistakes and not re-edit the past. Which was hard for someone who loves iterations and editing.
I also considered Live Tweeting the poem but realized it was stressful enough as it was and Live Tweeting wouldn't give me time to solve problems that might come up. Good call, me.
I'm both glad it's over and can't wait to do it again. But how? I'm out of allowable Twitter accounts!!
Sites and profiles
Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman, Viking Penguin, 1985
"The Two Ways of Imagination: Blake & Wordsworth", Howard Nemerov, New & Selected Essays, Southern Illinois University Press, 1985