Short and sweet, Twitterature goes viral in Hangul

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Short and sweet, Twitterature goes viral in Hangul

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Twitter enables its users to post messages of up to 140 characters. The limit encourages the use of grammatically incorrect abbreviations like “u” and “me2” that drive wordsmiths mad. But that doesn’t mean great literature can’t be tweeted. As Leonardo da Vinci once said, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

“Twitterature,” a newly coined portmanteau of the words Twitter and literature, has caught on in Korea, with the trend becoming ever more popular and continuously evolving.

Timeless verses of the late renowned poets including Ki Hyung-do (@KiHyungDo_Bot), Kim Soo-yung (@kim_sooyung_bot) and Paik Seok (@paikseok) are automatically shared with thousands of followers through Twitter’s “bot” service.

Munhakdongne Publishing Group, a publisher established in 1993 and based in Paju, Gyeonggi, has also caught on to the movement.

The publisher is currently holding a writing contest on Twitter where poet Ahn Do-hyeon (@ahndh61) is serving as a judge. People can send him a short poem (within the 140-character limit) and every day he announces the winner and runner-up. The contest runs until July 21.

“Twitter restricts the number of letters to less than 140, so it is an optimal medium to deliver short poems,” Ahn said. “Twitter is supposed to be a venue for communication. I hope the communication takes place through literature.”

Such an odd marriage between literature and the social networking service fits well with the busy lives of many modern Koreans. Reading tweeted poems on a smartphone is much more convenient for the commuters in Seoul than finding the time to read collected works, no matter the difference in quality.

Korea is in fact quite late to the Twitterature party, which kick-started several years ago in the U.K., U.S. and Japan.

In the United Kingdom, one Twitter contest in 2009 had users submit short works related to the theme of summer, and posted the winners’ tweets on electronic display boards in subway stations. And in the United States, undergraduates of the University of Chicago retold Shakespeare “Twitter-style,” and Penguin Books published the compilation dubbed “Twitterature: The World’s Greatest Books Retold Through Twitter.”

The experience in Korea differs in that Twitter’s character limit actually allows more to be said in Hangul, or Korean alphabet, than in English or other languages. Poetry written in Hangul and translated to English would typically not fit on a U.S. Twitter account.

Kim Eung-gyu, a literature critic and Korean literature professor at Sookmyung Women’s University, said Twitter has had a lasting impact in Korea. “Twitterature has blurred the boundaries between writer and reader,” said Kim said, adding that writers monitor readers’ reactions and actively revise their works.

“As writers have to condense their thoughts, various literary tools are utilized, like emphasis, metaphors and satire.”

By Chung Kang-hyun [hkim@joongang.co.kr]

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