100 Tweets Later…

Sunday, March 8 was my day of 100 tweets, brought on because of a bet lost to Amy Senger. I got varied reactions to the effort as a whole, from some quite nice compliments to some responses that were less pleasant.

I grouped my tweets into sets of 10 or 20 on a single topic. The topics themselves were unconnected and not the result of any deep thinking; they were just areas of interest that I thought could yield enough tweets.

Most passed without much comment, but two topics generated a fair bit of retweeting, replies, and discussion. These were “20 great poems available online,” and “10 things I’ve learned from teaching.”

Web and Twitter giant Tim O’Reilly picked up my list of twenty poems about halfway through and told his huge set of followers “Poetry lovers, check out @amcafee‘s tweet series of 20 great poems available online. He started this about an hour ago.” There are evidently a ton of poetry lovers out there, because I started to get a lot more followers immediately after Tim’s message went out.

People volunteered their favorite poems, talked with each other about them, and expressed levels of love and enthusiasm for poetry that suprised and gratified me a whole lot (for a flavor of the discussion, see this set of search results).

Here’s the list of poems, along with my very terse commentary (brevity was imposed by Twitter’s 140 character limit). One note —  the punctuation and line breaks on some of these online versions are altered from the original, which is always a detraction. So if you like them at all, please find print versions of the poems; I assure you you’ll like them more.

1. “Al and Beth,” Lewis Simpson – http://bit.ly/3u3WxB – the American immigrant experience, distilled way down
2. “Blossom,” Mary Oliver – http://bit.ly/1CCHlN – limited myself to one Mary O. poem in this list. Did I choose well?
3. “The Illiterate,” William Meredith – http://bit.ly/Rvfb – captures the feeling of wonder at meeting a good person
4. “Rain,” Richard Tillinghast – http://bit.ly/6BX6 – just stunned by the imagery in this one
5. “You can Have it,” Philip Levine –  http://bit.ly/3kCtmE – for anyone who loves his brother

6. “Place of Pilgrimmage,” Jaroslav Seifert – http://bit.ly/10dhE – such a smart way to get across the glories of women
7. “What the Uneducated Old Woman Told Me,” Christopher Reid – http://bit.ly/QCZO – I find this one quite affecting
8. “Peeling an Orange,” Virginia Hamilton Adair – http://bit.ly/2U8Qvj – may we all have this moment
9. “The Goose,” Muriel Spark – http://bit.ly/4AV7Tc – advice and a worldview, all in 8 lines
10.”Optimistic Little Poem,” Hans Magnus Enzensberger – http://bit.ly/17szl – grudging admission from a Communist poet

11.”The Lover in Winter Plaineth for the Spring,” Anon. – http://bit.ly/IpkD – no way I was going to leave this one off the list
12.”Fern Hill,” Dylan Thomas – http://bit.ly/BgUY – has there ever been a better evocation of the joys of youth?
13.”Any Prince to Any Princess,” Adrian Henri – http://bit.ly/vHOc – for when you’ve screwed up, gentlemen
14.”A Tale Begun,” Wislawa Szymborska – http://bit.ly/JNMv6 – for pregnant friends, from a Nobel prize winner
15.”First Lesson,” Philip Booth – http://bit.ly/KMVn – on the full duty of fathers

16.”The Yak,” Hillaire Belloq – http://bit.ly/IJ04P – one on this list has to be just pure silly fun
17.”Having it Out with Melancholy,” Jane Kenyon – http://bit.ly/4q4CtR – Kenyon fought depression, hard
18.”Gravy,” Raymond Carver – http://bit.ly/OgHz – what Carver wrote after his brain cancer diagnosis
19.”The River Merchant’s Wife,” Li Po (translated by Ezra Pound) – http://bit.ly/17Cgt – there are many ways to fall in love
20.”Orpheus and Eurydice,” Czeslaw Milosz – http://bit.ly/3vod – I promise you, I will never love another poem more

The other list that generated some follow up was ten things I’ve learned from teaching:

1. Don’t be afraid of silence in the classroom
2. Ask clear questions
3. Trust your students
4. Be the person who most wants to be in the room
5. Start on time, end on time

6. Check your fly
7. Be more concerned with the destination than the journey
8. We get smarter via respectful disputation
9. It’s better to be well-rested than well-prepared
10.Most students appreciate being held to high standards

I honestly didn’t intend to convey any deep insights with this set, but Mark Gould found some anyway. He wrote a blog post keying off my list; look how much better his is:

1.Silence is not bad — so long as it signifies that people are thinking about what you are saying.
2.If you are clear what you want from people, you have to have understood it better, and they will know why it is important.
3.Internal consultancy is a kind of leadership — the organisation has trusted you to take it somewhere new, so you owe it to those you are leading to trust them too.
4.If you don’t care deeply about what you are doing (and show it), everyone will know, and take their cue from you.
5.At the most basic level, punctuality is respectful — but it also shows that you have made a plan and have stuck to it. If you can do that with the small things, people will believe that you can do the same with the big ones.
6.There is always something obvious to remember to do. Remember to do it, otherwise people will notice.
7.If there is agreement about what the outcome should be, that is what is most important. If you start to quibble about the route-plan, you run the risk that you lose internal clients along the way.
8.If there are differences of opinion, they only fester if left unspoken. Clearly-expressed alternative perspectives can lead to a much better outcome — be open to them.
9.Do the best preparation that you can, but an alert mind can overcome gaps in that preparation (and there will always be gaps).
10.Just because you have been asked to advise on something, don’t let the client (internal or otherwise) get away without doing their bit — the outcome will be better and will be better implemented if they engage properly.

I find his improvements kind of humbling, and further evidence of the value of getting ideas out there so they can be discussed and enhanced.  Thank you, Mark.

I experienced a net gain of a couple hundred followers over the course of the day, and boosted my Twitter Grader rating as high as 99.98(!). So I’d call the effort a success, but don’t worry – I’m not about to repeat it. As we learned, it’s a fair bit of work to produce or consume 100 tweets over the course of a single day.

I can easily imagine doing a few more lists, though, and/or continuing to highlight really good writing (poetry, prose, non-fiction, etc.) that I come across on the Web. The poems seem to have struck a chord with a lot of people, so let’s keep using Twitter to surface and talk about them. Sound good?

And if you have any comments about the day of 100 tweets, I’m eager to hear them.