Quentin Tarantino once said you can't write poetry on a computer, so he for one would presumably be stumped by the challenge set this year by the Hay Festival - its quest to find the "most beautiful" tweet ever written. Judged by the unofficial Twitter king, Stephen Fry, the festival is calling on all scribes, be they professional or amateur, to send in their beautiful thoughts so long as they are contained within 140 characters.
"The definition of most beautiful tweet could fall into a number of different categories," explained the festival's founder and director, Peter Florence, of the competition. "It could prove the most eloquent; the most impassioned; the best demonstration of a clever pun or metaphor; the most evocative description of a place or emotion, or perhaps prove that brevity is conducive to levity, and be the wittiest tweet ever committed to the Twittersphere."
As the compiler of The National's Tweet Talk column (see below), I myself sift through the daily waffle of celebrities and big names as diverse as Russell Brand and, erm, Karl Rove. So I know well how one person's thoughts may generally be pithy and engaging, while another's will generally be tiresome. (Hello, Justin Bieber. As a whole, your sleeping patterns do not concern us). Fry himself is something of a shiny diamond in the rough. Despite Twitter absences from time to time, he usually keep his 1.5 million followers up to scratch with his daily toing and froing.
"On my way home. Boarding soon. Just had sweet conversation with Ozzy Osbourne - that's LAX lounges for you I suppose. Such a dear thing," he said last month. "Just had a lunch. No, not a lunch. A LUNCH. Of the kind popularised last century. I may never bend in the middle again" he mused after a particularly heavy grazing session. "Of all inventions coat hangers behave the least well. Entirely slappable entities at the best of times," he added once before. Humourous sprinklings such as these are much appreciated. Moaning about having your wisdom teeth out (Lindsay Lohan) is not.
Should you feel undaunted by the task set by Hay, tap out your entry and send it through to the Hay Festival Twitter account (@HayFestival) before 3pm tomorrow. The winner will be announced on Sunday, when Fry is due on stage to talk about his upcoming memoir. The brevity part will no doubt stump some. But Florence has optimistically insisted that 140 characters is more than enough. "There are a lot of clever, inspiring and intuitive tweets from people taking a lot of care in their tweets. And when you do get a good one it does make you smile. Some people write great postcards," he said of the announcement.
"Good writing is good whatever format it's in," he added. "Young people tend to do it more creatively. There's room for some really stylish prose. We all have two or three people whose tweets we really look forward to. It's a little jolly and a leveller. We can all write tweets but not all of us can write poems or novels." It sounds ever so slightly optimistic about the abilities of some on Twitter, who bash out moronic thoughts as if they're an ape that has recently come into possession of a keyboard. But early runners have presented themselves on the festival's Twitter page already, with varying degrees of potential.
"If you read my tweet, that sometimes crazy sometimes sweet, that's me breathe my heartbeat," offered one. "I gaze up at the stars and wonder whether someone else up there is gazing down with wonder," wrote another. "The pen is mightier than the pin-up," suggested one wag. It's not the first time that such sweet poetry has been encouraged on Twitter before, however. In January, the writer Ben Okri wrote a poem about time that was unleashed on Twitter at the sedate pace of one line a day, having done the same with a poem about freedom last year.
"Forms follows adversity - we live in uncertain times. I think we need a new kind of writing that responds to the anxiety of our age and yet has brevity," he explained of his experiment. Last summer, Londoners, too, were encouraged to write Twitter haikus, or twaikus, in a competition judged by regular-tweeter Yoko Ono. The victor, Simon Brake, claimed first place with the following: "Beneath the morning sun, the city is painted gold, people move like bees through honey."
Who needs the thoughts of Justin Bieber and co, when you can read such poetry instead? * Sophia Money-Coutts