Poems from the heart, sweetly tweeted


Eric Dickey spent a year "tweeting" short poems every day. (photo: Theresa Hogue)

My voice sings the song of the Scrub Jay. My Nightingale heart. The Oak tree my home, my belly full, sun in my feathers, my chicks sleeping.

Poetry may not be something Eric Dickey will ever make a living at, but it’s something that makes him feel alive. No matter how distracted he is by work duties or family obligations, he manages to find a creative outlet, even if it’s only 140 characters.

Dickey, who works for Oregon Sea Grant as an administrative program specialist, has been writing a poem on Twitter every day, Monday through Friday, for the last year. For those who aren’t familiar with the social media service, Twitter messages (“tweets”) are limited to 140 characters each, meaning Dickey had to make his poems extremely succinct.

Dickey graduated from Oregon State in 1998 with an honors degree in English, with a minor in philosophy, but didn’t end up getting into a graduate program. Instead, he began working as a grant writer, and eventually got a job at his alma mater, first in the department of economics, and later with Sea Grant. A lifelong poet, Dickey decided it wasn’t likely that he was ever going to live on poems alone, especially after getting married and having children, but he continued to get some of his works published, and was determined to always make room for poetry.

I run out of my office, down the stairs, out the sliding doors, up the sidewalk, across the street, and fall on the grass in a warm embrace.

When OSU began offering a masters degree in fine arts with an emphasis in poetry, Dickey took the opportunity to finally pursue his degree, but did it for his own gratification, rather than with the intent to switch his career path.

“Poetry is not a very lucrative business to get into,” he said.

But even writing for fun can be a chore, especially with a full time job, two children and outside projects like book reviews and poetry translations, and occasionally Dickey found himself in need of a literary jumpstart.

“It’s exhausting being creative 100 percent of the time,” he said.

That’s where his idea for a year-long Twitter project started. By pledging to write in a public space, he forced himself to be creative for at least five minutes every morning, and by keeping the poems to Tweet length, it didn’t become too burdensome of a process.

Standing at the edge of a line, waiting for the words to run, I start to shove lowercase letters. A verb looks at me askance, throws a fist.

Many of his poems are infused with observations about nature and Dickey’s surroundings. Others focus on his life as a young father, a topic he said is relatively unexplored by modern male poets. While writing about motherhood has been a staple of many female poets throughout the ages, he said explorations of the masculine in poetry rarely include children in the mix.

And while he admires the avant-garde, cutting edge work coming from today’s most popular poets, his approach is much more accessible and down-to-earth.

“Lately the topics have been about interpersonal relationships,” he said. “I try not to be too didactic.”

While Dickey focused on Twitter because he figured short poems wouldn’t take up too much of his time, he’s found the format to be challenging.

“Tweeting has allowed me to focus, but it’s very difficult to be evocative in so few words,” he said. “What I do in Twitter has also influenced my larger poems. You have to use very succinct language.”

A slate gray sky threatens rain and glares down at us blankly, not flinching, out-staring us like the snake we don’t see hiding in the rush.

He’s had some of his Twitter poems published in the poetry journal “Four and Twenty,” which prints only short poems, and one day he would like to gather a year’s worth of the tweets in a chapbook. Meanwhile, he took a month hiatus this summer from Twitter, but has started writing poems again this week.

This time, Dickey hasn’t set a time limit for his Twitter poems, but he will continue to use them as a creative outlet. More of his time in the next few months will be spent working on a collection of poems called “The Book of James,” about his brother, who died suddenly in 2008. He’s also trying to get a book published that he wrote exploring ideas about masculinity tied with cars and driving, called “Freeway.” It’s an updated version of his master’s thesis. His Twitter poems, however, more often feature another favored vehicle, his bicycle.

Night time bike ride, my headlight tells a story through darkness. Small raindrops pit and pat my jacket and land on my tissue paper cheeks.

To read Dickey’s poems on Twitter, see http://twitter.com/MePoet

~ Theresa Hogue

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