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Sunday, November 18, 2007

MNMLST POETRY: Unacclaimed but Flourishing - by Bob Grumman

My first introduction to this genre was by way of eclectic poet Munir Niazi. His minimalist two worded poem resonated a long time


I recalled it recently when vivek forwarded a link to an article on Aram Saroyan's one word poem


I am not sure if anyone has written this poem. But I am inspired to write this:


If you focus it, just this one word in the center of the page and let the gamut of thoughts and feelings run perhaps you would enjoy this too. And please continue and read the wonderful essay by Bob Grumman.


It is not clear when contemporary minimalist poetry began, or who "invented" it, but it's probable that one-word, one-phrase, and other very compressed poems were among the oddities thrown together by the dadaists in the twenties. At around the same time, imagism importantly emphasized the value of concision. A third important contribution to minimalist poetry was made by the concrete poetry movement of the 50's and 60's before it succumbed to narrowness of scope and various forms of parochialism. The flowering of the haiku in the West was a large influence, as well. To my mind, though, full-scale minimalist poetry didn't begin in this country and Canada until the one-word poems of Aram Saroyan and Richard Kostelanetz in the late sixties and early seventies. The movement, if it can be called that, was almost invisible until the mid-eighties when poets like Geof Huth, Jonathan Brannen, Karl Kempton and others joined it. It is still small, but large enough to make the following survey possible.

An especially accessible example of minimalist poetry by George Swede seems as good a place as any to start that survey:



Here in just two words a thief's contraband is clearly and amusingly shown rather than verbally described. Similarly likable is Adam Gamble's

For my last piece of evidence for the high value of minimalistic poetry, I am going to turn to my all-time favorite minimalist poem, which is probably my all-time favorite poem of any kind, as well, Aram Saroyan's:


This is quite a famous, or notorious, poem. Every few years somebody comes out in print against it. A few years ago, for instance, the nationally syndicated columnist, William Rusher, was bemused that the government once (in the seventies) gave an award to so poor a work of art. I, on the other hand, can still scarcely believe that the government once gave an award to so wonderful an artwork. Most people tend to echo Rusher's view of it, even when they encounter it properly, at the center of an otherwise blank page--to emphasize its deserving a full page's worth of attention (as an expression of light, and only light). Merely glancing at it, they judge its key element, the extra "gh," a petty eccentricity designed to shock, or a hoax calculated to win the esteem that obscurity-for-obscurity's-sake too often receives from academics. They are seriously wrong: the extra "gh" is neither trivial nor obscure. By putting it into his word, Saroyan brings us face-to-face with the ineffability of light, a mysterious substance whose components are somehow there but absent, as "ghgh" is there (and delicately shimmering) but unpronounced in the word, "lighght." And he leaves us with intimations of his single syllable of light's expanding, silently and weightlessly, "gh" by "gh," into . . . Final Illumination.

[for the full essay click on the heading]


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