Current Weather
The Spy FM

Pentametron Reveals Unintended Poetry of Twitter Users

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
February 16, 2013

That hesitation right before a kiss

I don’t remember ever learning this

I’ve never had a valentine before

I’m not a little baby anymore

It’s poetry — rhyming couplets written in perfect iambic pentameter, those ten-syllable lines of alternating emphasis made famous by authors of sonnets and blank verse. But unlike your average metered rhyme, these lines were written by Twitter … with some help from a program called Pentametron.

Pentametron — which you can follow at @pentametron — watches all the public tweets created in a day. “It picks out the ones that happen to be in iambic pentameter,” says Ranjit Bhatnagar, an artist and the inventor of the program. “When it finds some of those, it looks for a pair that rhyme, and then it tweets out a couplet.”

Bhatnagar explains to NPR’s Jacki Lyden that he created the program by merging two of his interests. “I’d been interested in playing around with the idea of poetry; I was kind of inspired by the exquisite corpse games of the surrealists,” he says. “And on the other hand I’m a big nerd, and I was looking at Twitter’s API, the systems that let programmers talk to Twitter. So I saw that Twitter has this way that you can subscribe to receive just an endless waterfall of tweets from them, and so I thought, ‘wow, that would be really neat to just to find a way to play with that.’ And what I ended up doing was combining my interest in surrealist poetry and Twitter’s API and Pentametron came out of that.”

As befits Bhatnagar’s surrealist inspirations, Pentametron’s couplets often juxtapose wildly different or unrelated tweets:

I want the other Spanish teacher back

Sting ray a double sided Scooby snack.

At other times, randomly-plucked tweets resonate with each other to make a sort of sense, as with the Valentine-themed couplets above, or these lines that Bhatnagar dedicates to Lyden:

I wanna be a news reporter, yo

I never listen to the radio

Pentrametron generates 15 to 20 couplets each day, with an upswing during major events like the Super Bowl and the Grammies. The users it retweets are, according to Bhatnagar, a random sample of all English-speaking Twitter users. Through Pentametron, he says, “I’m exposed to more different kinds of people, different kinds of language, than I would be if I just followed the people I normally follow on Twitter.”

To insure an appropriately random distribution of tweets, Bhatnagar has needed to put some limitations on the program. It turns out some tweets in iambic pentameter show up again and again: “The very first iambic phrase that Pentametron discovered was ‘I’ve never been in Twitter jail before,’” Bhatnagar says. “And I didn’t know what Twitter jail was — it turns out if you tweet more than about 200 times in the same day, Twitter cuts you off for a day, and that’s Twitter jail. People say ‘I’ve never been in Twitter jail before’ a lot, so I finally got tired of seeing Pentametron pick it up and I blacklisted it.” Bhatnagar had the same problem with “I want to see the Hunger Games again,” an iambic opinion shared by far too many tweeters.

With common offenders crossed off the list, Pentametron manages to find poetry in everything from mundane life updates to 140-character bits of philosophy. We’ll give the poet-program the final word:

I’m kind of thirsty for a valentine

My volume doesn’t have a minus sign [Copyright 2013 NPR]

Leave a Reply

6PM to 6:30PM Marketplace


Hosted by Kai Ryssdal, award-winning Marketplace is public radio's daily magazine of business and economics.

Listen Live Now!

6:30PM to 7PM All Things Considered

All Things Considered

For two hours every weekday, All Things Considered hosts Robert Siegel, Michele Norris and Melissa Block present the program's trademark mix of news, interviews, commentaries, reviews, and offbeat features.

View the program guide!

7PM to 9PM The Oklahoma Rock Show

The Oklahoma Rock Show

The Oklahoma Rock Show filters through dozens of submissions a week to find the best in new local music. Ryan LaCroix is the host and mastermind behind the show and teaches at the Academy of Contemporary Music at the University of Central Oklahoma (ACM@UCO).

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center