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In just a Tweet, a poem's meaning revealed

Robert Frost wrote that a poem "begins in delight and ends in wisdom." Or maybe it ends in a Tweet.

To wrap up National Poetry Month, we asked our readers to use Twitter format — no more than 140 characters — to formulate their interpretations of Famous Last Words, a poem by University of South Florida creative writing professor Ira Sukrungruang.

Readers rose to the challenge, honing their words into remarkably penetrating analyses of the poem. Some of them read like poetry themselves.

It wasn't easy to choose just one, but Norine Noonan, regional vice chancellor of academic affairs at USF St. Petersburg, scored with her crisp, deliciously ambiguous take:

"In death,

We love what kills us

or what makes us stronger."

She wins a copy of The Niagara River by Kay Ryan, U.S. poet laureate.

Below are the best of the rest. Thanks to all our readers who showed us that brevity doesn't have to be a limitation — and that technology and art aren't enemies.

• • •

Ultimately, we are addicted to what we think we most want but can never forever have: life.

Richard Downing, Hudson

One dies as one has lived, with cool liberty (eating ice cream) or in frozen slavery (smoking tobacco).

Susan Masztak, Gulfport

Ira's last words

spoken in positive tone, will suggest;

if those that hear can discern;

the nirvana we seek can be found

in life's simple joys.

Meg S. Allen, Palm Harbor

If you're lucky

And your passion's for good

Not weakening with age

Then it will fill your last breaths

An epitaph resonating through it all

J. J. Hinckley, St. Petersburg

Forget railing. Forget whimpering. Forgo banging, even. Go out, rather, with a flourish.

Jeanne P. Hilburn, Temple Terrace

Smoke, a poem, a feeling, a request for ice cream

no fear, no revelation. Not-so-famous last words

put life's end in perspective for the poet.

Margaret Watts, Tampa

This is not about words.

This is about introspectiveness and the calming acceptance of the inevitable;

A poetic primer on dying quietly.

Jim Fleck, Crystal River

Survivors want — no, need — last words to be words that last.

Sometimes, final words endure; sometimes, they're just the end.

Claire Brantley, Tampa

Celebrate death as you celebrated life.

Beverly Wolanyk, St. Petersburg

I can no longer live life on my own terms, but I will choose once more before I give up this life.

Billie Poteat, Tarpon Springs

Like a poem, parting words should be brief and profound; unforgettable caricature sketches meant to capture a soul. Too bad most are not.

Kevin Faugl, Tampa

Death seeks a voice — aims for profound, hits mundane. It looks for sublime, finds ridiculous. We want our 15, get a breath. Life speaks.

Susan J. Johnston, Clearwater

Colette Bancroft can be reached at or (727) 893-8435.

Famous Last Words

By Ira Sukrungruang (first appeared in The Sun)

My grandfather, a man I met once in Bangkok,

whose lungs had blackened from years of puffing a pipe,

asked for one more smoky breath, asked to die

with his addiction, his last words a stream of smoke.

I want to go out like the immortal poets:

Blake singing a poem before dying —

words he loved enough to capture on the page.

Or Elizabeth Barrett Browning:

her husband asked how she felt

and "Beautiful" is what she said.

Or my favorite, the words a diabetic should die by:

James Wright, afflicted

with the C-word of the throat,

writing on paper "I'm dying,"

and those around him crowding in,

expecting to see

what all survivors want — words to live by, or with,

the words of Buddha himself,

"to eat ice cream from a tray."

In just a Tweet, a poem's meaning revealed 04/25/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 25, 2009 4:31am]
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