September 30, 2013

1855 Leaves of Grass, @TweetsOfGrass

1855 Leaves of Grass, little by little, over and over. 
In the summer of 2011, Walt Whitman joined the twitterverse. Tweet by tweet, this anonymous avatar of the American bard recounts Leaves of Grass 140 characters at a time, day after day, line after line. And it's all under the thumbs of nearly 10,000 followers.
     Respecting the account's anonymity, we conducted the following Q & A via private messaging. 

Did you start this account to immerse yourself in Leaves of Grass, or to immerse those who follow the account?
I was a fan of the @HowlTweeter account and had been struck by the way in which reading individual lines, or small chunks of them, changed the way I read the poem–slowed down the process and made it more like reading a serialized novel. A small dose, & then the wait for more. But the experience of cutting and pasting lines into the tweet box has very much had the effect of deepening my relationship to the poem.

Does a project like this, particularly via social media, have an impact on the accessibility and acceptance of literature for students? The public?
I've tried to favorite tweets that mention the feed: They give some indication of how readers respond to the poem via Twitter. It's clear that the social nature of this format is a big part of the pleasure people take in it–telling others that they enjoy it, or identifying with specific lines of sections of the poem.

When you get to "I am as one disembodied, triumphant, dead," what happens next?
"So long!" wasn't in the 1855 ed., so I guess we're off the hook. I use the entire first edition, except for the prose preface, then repeat. 
     It takes roughly six months to get through the whole poem the way I do it. We're on the fourth time through right now.

Are there other social media platforms that could host a similar project as well as Leave of Grass on Twitter? Or does Twitter have an advantage?
It turns out almost every line of Leaves of Grass (unlike, say, Howl) actually fits in 140 characters. Readers seem to identify easily with isolated lines, to RT them a little out of context, or interact with them by talking back. I'm not sure other platforms would work as well, given that they'd probably lend themselves too easily to posting larger sections of the poem at once. 

Would this project be any different if you weren't anonymous? Why tweet these lines as Walt?
All I do is decide how many lines to tweet per day–how to break up sections. They're his lines. I think people like it that way. I'm the editor, I guess. Pacing/timing matter to a project like this, I've learned over time. I mediate readers' relationship to the poem. I don't think this would work as well if it were run by a bot. @HowlTweeter gets a little old over time because the breaks are always the same. 
     Short answer: I matter as an unseen editorial force, but I'm happy to tweet under Walt's name. Note that I don't tweet anything but the poem.

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