Line Feeds in Twitter Posts

Most people probably don’t care about inserting line feeds (“carriage returns,” for you older folks) into a Twitter post. I mean, the whole post is limited to 140 characters. Why would anyone need a line break?

Well, for poets, line breaks can mean a great deal. And there’s quite a healthy #haiku and #micropoetry crowd on Twitter. Some use “/” to indicate a line break; some use “::”; and I’ve even seen some use “;”.

(For you American punctuation purists, I realize that period should go inside the quotation marks, but think how confusing that would be in this case.)

Wouldn’t it be great if we could make a haiku or lune look like a haiku or lune? Well, I’ve done some Web searching and experimenting, and here’s what I’ve discovered so far:

  1. In the Twitter interface itself, SHIFT+ENTER (or, on a Mac, SHIFT+RETURN) creates a line break in the text-entry box, as it does pretty much anyplace else on the Web.
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Poetic Forms: Haiku, Senryu, Tanka, and Lunes

counting sylllables
mentioning cherry blossoms
this is not haiku

(from Zen Rampage, back cover)


Everyone knows what a haiku is, right? A poem in three lines, with seventeen syllables divided five/seven/five.

That’s the commonly accepted definition of a haiku in English, but to understand how we got there, it’s worth knowing a little bit about haiku in Japanese. You can look up the history yourself: I’d just like to point out a few standard features of a Japanese haiku.

  • It has seventeen syllables.
  • It has a conceptual break after either the fifth syllable or the twelfth.
  • It includes a seasonal word to ground it in nature.
  • It is not metaphorical.

The conceptual break explains why English haiku are commonly divided as they are: Five/seven/five includes both possible breaks in thought—depending upon where your poem puts its emphasis. This format also explains why so many English haiku are simply bad: It isn’t enough to divide your lines; each line also needs to be a complete mini thought in it’s own right; and one of those breaks must create an interesting shift in perception if the poem is to have any power.
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