Over the last several months, we have been thinking about how Merwin Studies could best use Twitter and Facebook. We thought about tweeting lines from Merwin’s work, but that would take us in a direction we don’t want to go. Our role is to circulate discussions of Merwin’s work through communities—not necessarily the lines themselves. I am cautious to do so even though some Fair Use Policies suggest it would be fine. In the future, we might tweet lines from our contributing author’s essays—but our aim is to circulate thoughts and insights concerning poetry rather than the poetry itself.
And so, one day, I picked up Theodore Roethke’s Straw for the Fire—a collection of aphorisms. After floating through the pages and lines, I suddenly thought, Roethke would have loved Twitter!—and then I once really enjoyed writing aphorisms—and then Why not tweet aphorisms about poetry, poetics, and teaching?
Several years ago, I wrote a couple hundred aphorisms, but had let the discipline go. I wrote a couple dozen prior to launching into my dissertation, and they became a way to clarify and envision the impetus of that work. However, after a few days of writing aphoristically, I had to attend to, well, the dissertation and other scholarly work.
Reading Straw for the Fire a couple of weeks ago stirred up all those latent energies, and I began writing aphorisms again. Just a few pieces of straw a day. One of them contextualizes the roll of Twitter in the history of aphoristic writing:
After wandering through scrolls, vellum, and the dusty pages of books for millennia, the aphorism found Twitter.
Twitter, on one hand, seems to revolutionize how we write and think and circulate ideas through communities. On the other hand, it is a perfect place to practice an ancient thought pattern. Philosophers, poets, sages—all radicals—have gravitated to aphorisms. The aphorism can be like the mountain pine beetle that bores into and weakens large, monolithic systems of thought.
Nietzsche once said it all:
In the mountains the shortest route is from peak to peak, but for that you must have long legs. Aphorisms should be peaks, and those to whom they are spoken should be big and tall of stature.
I make no claims that my aphorisms have vast, mountainous terrains beneath their peaks, but a few might. Readers, it is hoped, will glimpse at least one vertiginous valley when stepping (or leaping) from one tweet to the next. Regardless, Twitter is an excellent space to undergo an ancient practice. My hope is that these aphorisms carve out space for silence amidst an interface known for its white noise.
Tweet tweet, says the aphorism!
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