Two of the most important poets in English and American letters live on in Twitter in similar yet profoundly different ways. In both cases, the accounts offer a sequential presentation of each poet’s texts in tweet-sized portions. The differences are in how they are programmed and the implications for the systems that execute these programs.
“Willy Shakes” was programmed by Joshua Strebel in 2009 and set into motion publishing the complete works of William Shakespeare on Twitter, calculating that “every 10 minutes a new line, 24/7/365. Should take about 2 years, 13 days… and finish around August 24th 2011.” Upon completion the project had been so well received that it is currently doing so for the second time (as I write this, it is tweeting The Merry Wives of Windsor). Part of what is so brilliant about the project is that it weaves a little bit of the Bard’s lines into the Twitter stream of its followers, placing it in circulation with everything else that is going on in that environment, making it shareable, remixable, readable. A person too busy to go read one of Shakespeare’s plays or poems, can still have appreciate some of his language and perhaps be motivated to make the time to read one of his plays or poems.
I don’t know how the “Willy Shakes” bot was programmed— such information isn’t available— but one can probably figure out several ways to produce the same results.
The “Walt Whitman” account does the same thing on the surface, along with all the same benefits, except the programming approach is completely different. “Walt Whitman” isn’t a bot, it is a constraint an anonymous scholar took on: to tweet a portion from the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass (almost) every day, sequentially from beginning to end, over and over. I use the word “scholar” because of the foregrounding and choice of edition (which edition of Shakespeare is Strebel using?) and the method of the constraint which forces the scholar to read each line when cutting and pasting it. This discipline has the powerful impact of keeping the scholar’s mind focused on this poet’s work on a daily basis, re-discovering Whitman’s poetry over time, and gaining insight in the process.
As a writer of this daily (and that includes weekends!) scholarly blog for over 15 months, I appreciate the positive impact of setting up a constraint that leads to disciplined thought on a topic on a daily basis.
I encourage you to festoon your Twitter stream with lines from two of the greatest poets to write in English on either side of the Atlantic!
Featured in Genre: Bot