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Unexpected Haikus on Twitter – science and other haikus

by Eva Amsen

And I’m back. That was not a very long blog break, but a necessary one. During the blog break I didn’t stop writing: I have several thousands words of insecure drivel, which I thought would make good blog posts for after my blog break. Haha, they’re absolutely terrible. I have one that is worthy of posting, but the rest is pure garbage and will never see the light of day. This is why I took a blog break – to save you from all that.

I did not, however, take a complete Twitter break. Well, I deleted about 30 people, and I made it clear (to anyone who took the time to actually read the Tweets flying by) that I would only update by phone. This puts a limit on the whining: only 140 characters, and the hurdle of typing it on a phone. To make things even more difficult, I decided to only update in 5-7-5 haiku form…

Nobody noticed.

The beauty of Twitter is that people are used to seeing strangely worded sentences, because everyone has the 140 character limit. I have been feeding my 120 followers haikus on Twitter for the past few weeks, and nobody noticed a thing. Of course, the line breaks are missing, so the 5-7-5 meter is not always obvious. But I thought this one in particular was a dead giveaway in terms of being an obvious haiku:

Showed my aunt my house.
Using laptop, wifi, Skype –
It’s like being there.

This really happened, by the way. I was not feeding people random haikus, I just rephrased the babblings I wanted to post to Twitter in a haiku.
Where normally I would have said something along the lines of “OMG, Nobel Prize winner speaking at the Gairdners right now.” I rephrased it to:

At Craig Mello’s talk.
(Nobel Prize RNAi)
Yay, Gairdner Awards!”

Part of the reason I was so stressed and busy lately was the combination of having to finish the second-to-last version of my thesis, for distribution to the committee, and doing the last bits of labwork for a collaborator, being well aware that these might be my last weeks in the lab, ever (more on that in a later post). I was really not doing well:

It’s only Monday.
It feels like twenty Fridays.
Is it weekend yet?”

One day I had a gigantic headache, and took the last Tylenol from an old bottle in my desk drawer. I could have whined about my headache, but instead I posted more haikus on Twitter:

Anecdotal proof:
Tylenol no longer works
past expiry date.

…which basically says “I have a headache” but in 5-7-5.
And I muttered a bit about my thesis:

There goes the toner!
Almost printed whole thesis
on colour printer.

Thesis summarized:
This knockdown does something cool.
These I can’t detect.

But my favourite ones were the ones about the lab work. The RNase one, people really responded to that. It was favourited and commented on on Twitter and FriendFeed (“How can you type?” Well, uhm, maybe I did not drop my samples mid-action just to send something to Twitter…?).

Despite the smiles this apparently got out of people, nobody seemed to notice that it was a haiku.

Can’t take that phonecall.
I can’t even touch the phone.
I’m RNase-free.

Last days at the lab:
spent in the microscope room
alone in the dark.

Cleaning up lab fridge:
Boxes of antibodies
and unlabeled stuff.

Analyze data:
is this change in phenotype

There’s no knockdown here,
matching my expectations.
Now to test the rest.

Backing up my files
from all four lab computers.
Not that I’ll use them…

First strand synthesis.
Thaw primers and SYBR Green.

(For that last one, you have to know that I pronounce it “cyber green”. Maybe other people say “Ess Why Bee Are Green”, but then it doesn’t work.)
In conclusion: I wrote seventeen haikus on Twitter, throwing poetry at more than a hundred followers since October 20, and nobody noticed.
I was so close to telling so many times, but told myself: “Wait until November, wait until your blog break is over.” So I did, and I am just about to post this one:

For the past two weeks
I have twittered in haiku.
Nobody noticed.

I wonder if they’ll notice now. It’s a pretty fast-paced world, that web 2.0, so it’ll probably just get swooped away in most people’s quick skimming of blurbs and comments.

Update Several (five or six) people either mentioned the “nobody noticed” part of this…experiment/project or apologized for not noticing. Huh. That was not the reaction I was looking for. I didn’t mean to say “nobody noticed” as if I was wearing a pretty dress to impress people and nobody noticed and I felt bad, but I enjoyed that nobody noticed that all my tweets suddenly had the same number of syllables.I have another blog post prewritten that has an even higher risk of being misunderstood as sad. Maybe I’ll add a clown picture.

I have another blog post prewritten that has an even higher risk of being misunderstood as sad. Maybe I’ll add a clown picture.


Update 2: Some time after this I deleted all my old tweets, so there are no longer haikus on Twitter – at least not on my account!

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Cath Ennis November 4, 2008 - 9:57 PM

I don’t do Twitter, but if all my friends Twitted in haiku I might change my mind. These are awesome!
When I’m stressed I post “limericks”:http://vwxynot.blogspot.com/2008/02/this-is-what-too-much-caffeine-and.html and “dodgy Shakespeare adaptations”:http://vwxynot.blogspot.com/2008/09/theres-more-to-this-grant-business-than.html on my other blog.

Richard P. Grant November 4, 2008 - 10:23 PM

What is it with bloody haiku? Was there ever a more _boring_ pastime?

Ian Brooks November 4, 2008 - 10:45 PM

I lvoe it! Well done Eva! I have a poet friend (seriously) who writes the funniest, impromptu haiku porn…when he gets back from Australia I’ll try and nab some

Eva Amsen November 5, 2008 - 2:24 AM

Cath, I love the limerick!
Richard, I prefer sonnets, but it’s so hard to fit them in Twitter’s 140 character limit =(
Ian, this is the first offer of porn of any kind that has made it onto this blog, I think. Congratulations…?

Bill Hooker November 5, 2008 - 3:54 AM

I’d say those are more like senryu than haiku. Also, 5-7-5 is mnemonic in Japanese but useless in English, and Japanese uses more “syllables per concept” (think about Dutch vs English sentences for another example) so haiku/senryu in English should probably be closer to 10-14 syllables. Also, “syllables” is not quite what is counted in haiku/senryu…
I’ll stop now.
(Grant, have you no soul?)

Richard P. Grant November 5, 2008 - 4:09 AM

Obviously “not”:http://www.lablit.com/article/417, Bill.

Bill Hooker November 5, 2008 - 4:40 AM

Well that’s me set straight, then. 🙂
But, but — how can you find haiku boring, if you like verse enough to write it? De gustibus non wossname, I guess.

Richard P. Grant November 5, 2008 - 4:43 AM

Different style of verse, I guess. I’d rather get my teeth into a good limerick than a haiku. I guess it’s the difference between rare steak and tofu.

Bill Hooker November 5, 2008 - 4:55 AM

_the difference between rare steak and tofu_
You probably didn’t know this, but I’m a vegetarian. 🙂

Richard P. Grant November 5, 2008 - 5:08 AM

That explains _everything_.

Eva Amsen November 5, 2008 - 6:52 AM

Steak _is_ better, but I don’t eat it, because I’m vegetarian, too. But tofu is really boring, blech. I “like” it only when it’s properly spiced, and then the only thing I like about it is the spices.
I don’t know what this has to do with poetry anymore.

Richard P. Grant November 5, 2008 - 7:14 AM

Eva, haiku=tofu, real poetry=steak.

Eva Amsen November 5, 2008 - 5:53 PM

But then what does it mean that I don’t like tofu but I just wrote 20 haikus? And what does it mean that I do like poetry but don’t refuse to read it even though I refuse to eat steak (but do like it). The analogy makes no sense in my world!

Cath Ennis November 5, 2008 - 7:04 PM

real poetry is the stuff that rhymes, right?

Richard P. Grant November 5, 2008 - 7:28 PM

Eva: it means your brain is curdled by your thesis.
Cath: No, because—
Oh all right. _Yes_.

Ian Brooks November 5, 2008 - 8:03 PM


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