David Lauderdale

Wordsmith finds art in getting to the heart

Norm Levy of Hilton Head Island says he's still in the wonderment stage of social media.

Levy writes light verse, much of it keying off headlines of the day. He posts it on his website. And he zips it out on Twitter, where in a few months he's gained 600 followers.

So when his wife, Joan, handed him one of our recent headlines -- "Is Twitter the future of diplomacy?" -- Levy crafted two lines of verse to fit Twitter's 140-character limit:

The fate of the world in a Twitter release:

"We declare war." Or "Let's live in peace."

Within an hour, the verse had been shared with news outlets that posted the story online. One reader was intrigued enough to click into Levy's website. And The Associated Press bureau chief in Stockholm who wrote the story also had received Levy's take on it and bounced it around the globe again by "retweeting" it.

Levy, at 80, looks out his window at the lush Lowcountry he's called home for seven years and marvels: "Those dynamics are astonishing. There's a great amount of wonder in that."

Levy knows the power of a few, well-chosen words. In 42 years with Procter & Gamble, where he retired as director of advertising development for the world's largest advertiser, he homed in on message like the ancient Greeks wrote epigrams. He helped the Jif peanut butter brand rocket to the top on the power of six syllables: "Choosy mothers choose Jif."

Early in his career, television overtook print in advertising volume, and suddenly the message had to be chiseled to 120 words or less. Does "Tide's in, dirt's out" ring a bell? It certainly rang a lot of cash registers.

Levy, something of a postcard in a world of letters, finds comfort in Twitter. He responded when I wrote about how our newspaper is using many platforms to spread local news. To Levy, and millions more, short verse can be art. He remains a member of the Literary Club of Cincinnati, and regularly reads his light verse where Ralph Waldo Emerson and Robert Frost once presented to its exclusive membership. In the Lowcountry, Levy leads the monthly open-mic night for the Island Writers' Network. Last year, his book, "Rhymes For Our Times (Slews on the News)," was published by Salt Marsh Cottage Books of Bluffton. He teaches a course in light verse at Lifelong Learning of Hilton Head. In it, he documents mankind's long-running love affair with meter, rhyme, rhythm and the inner child.

Yes, he fears that Twitter chirps for attention in a world where communication is too fragmented for society's own good.

But he expresses its wonder in a recent tweet:

Twitter, the very best part of it,

Insists you get to the HEART of it.