KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 3: Spring 2015
Craft Essay: 553 words
(incl. title)

When Whales Fly: A Commentweet

by Jack Cooper

So now we have Poetweet, an algorithm that trolls through your tweets for rhymes, lofty phrasing, and images, throwing them together in poetic form. The tolerable part is the fact that the resulting pho-poem is always in your very own words, albeit cut and pasted by a machine; so, it’s your work reprogrammed, so to speak, without your ideas.

“In the age of mechanical reproduction, poetry is easy,” says Carolyn Kellogg, writing on the new phenomenon in the LA Times Arts & Books.

Poetweet, which was created by a Brazilian art group, sounds totally cheesy at first, but when you think of it, a Tweet is a bit like a poem if only because of its highly condensed form. Reminiscent of haiku, it even comes with a character limit. Interestingly, from the Tale of Genji, it is commonly known that Japanese nobles during the Heian Period (794 to 1185 CE) regularly communicated via poetry—even passing each other little Tweet-like notes.

Cut-and-paste verse like Poetweet reminds me of a workshop technique whereby you literally cut up a clunky draft of a poem or several related poems and stir up the various lines on a table to gain a new perspective on how a single, more compelling work might be hidden in there waiting for liberation. I’ve played around with the idea on my own (never having actually taken a workshop) with occasionally surprising results that deliver a more creative, less linear version of my thinking. It’s like hitting the “refresh” button.

For lots of reasons, I’m all for Poetweet, although personally, I hardly ever Tweet. (I finally just drew the social-media line there.) In fact, when I go to the Poetweet site,, and enter my Twitter handle, the following message comes back: “We looked at all the bytes and bits, but you don’t have that many Tweets.” Apparently, you can’t just have a Twitter account; you have to use it.

Still, if something like this were available for my always-enthralling email messages or Facebook posts, it might be worth a smile. I would never, however, say that “poetry is easy.” In fact, it’s neither easy nor hard; it simply must be, like a whale swimming or a hummingbird flying.

Not being able to get in rhythm with the algorithm, so to speak, let me summon my inner Poetweet and see what poetic gem might be stored away in this commentary so far:

Like a hummingbird 
                or a whale flying 
        is neither
                hidden nor cheesy
and might 
                be easy 
however an inner 
        perspective is
                never worth trying

Wait just a minute! Were those my words? Where’s that refresh button when I need it?

Two other related versions of the exo-crafted poem come to mind: refrigerator-magnet poems and found poetry, the obvious difference being that neither is composed primarily of your own language. At least that’s not the case for the much-maligned workshop prompt, where all but the prompt line is yours and only yours, or so I’m told.

These various techniques of poetic stimulation, or, perhaps, simulation, raise some immediate questions: 1) How much of your language is your own? 2) Can computers have ideas; and, inevitably, 3) What is poetry?

Maybe I can address one or two of these easy-cheesy questions in a future Commentweet.

Jack Cooper’s
Issue 3, Spring 2015

first formal collection of poetry, Across My Silence, was published by World Audience, Inc. (New York, NY, 2007). His work has been nominated three times for a Pushcart Prize and chosen as a finalist in North American Review’s 2011 James Hearst Poetry Prize and in the 2014 Eco Arts Award in Creative Excellence.

His poetry and/or flash fiction and mini-plays have appeared in Slant, Bryant Literary Review, Connecticut River Review, The South Dakota Review, The Evansville Review, North American Review, The MacGuffin, and many other publications.

His play That Perfect Moment, co-written with Charles Bartlett, was a headliner at the NOHO Arts Center in North Hollywood, California, and The Little Victory in the 2009-10 seasons.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

A Man with a Beautiful Mind: Jack Cooper, an interview by Sonya Sabanac for Poet’s Quarterly (1 October 2012); includes the concrete poem, “Shrew”

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