Minimalist Poetry: a Merging of Genres?

shortest-poemSince the early 20th century, minimalist poetry proceeded from “Adam / Had ‘em” by Strickland Gillilan, to the letter you see on the right, written (or should I say designed?) by Aram Saroyan. The question is, when the poets start applying the very style of the written word, does it still count as pure literature? Are minimalist expanding the definition of this genre, and are we going see more of such pieces in the future?

To begin with, let’s return to “Lines on the Antiquity of Microbes”, which goes like so:



Had ‘em

This poem is certainly one of the shortest, cleverest, and most known minimalist pieces. Though the title, “Fleas”, should probably be included into the word count. The poem sounds rather opaque, if anything, without at least the shorter version of the heading. This is even more so for the poem



In any case, “Fleas” can no longer claim the title of the shortest rhyming poem after Muhammad Ali delivered a speech at Harvard University, including the following couplet:



Although some prefer to spell it



Or misspell



By far, this poem is the shortest to describe the collaborative process, the union of thought. Apart from “Me / We”, another two-word rhyme, my personal favourite, goes this way:



By the way, I’d be grateful if someone could identify the author.

All of the above still fit snugly into what the majority considers poetry. Minimalism took a new turn sometime in the middle of the previous century, in a cafe, when Aram Saroyan wrote a viral short poem, later to be tattooed, quoted, and loved:


The variation—or misspelling—of the word “light” even caused a political scandal in the U.S. (you can check out the history of this poem here). And so it should have, likely the first piece of literature that uses appearance rather than actual words to convey the meaning that seems purely aesthetic and intuitive. You cannot describe the poem to your friend (“well, it’s kinda like ‘light’, but with an extra ‘gh’”) because the essence would be lost. The impression of two silent syllables is what makes a misspelled word a piece of art. You don’t read it; you see it.

The merging of visual and literary genres further escalated into the poster poem you saw as a header image for today’s entry. The great thing about one-letter literature is that it allows a vast range of associations with it, from visual semblance of, say, Greek temples with an “m” with four humps, to what Bob Grumman calls “a closeup of an alphabet being born”.

This isn’t the only example of one-symbol poetry, and you can google for more.

More surprisingly, literature where the margin between drawing and writing appears washed off is no news. Visual poetry has probably begun in Arabic countries as their writing style favours style as well as meaning. However, until the four-hump “m”, it remained unknown to the larger part of the Western audience.

And if you think that literature can’t be any more minimalistic, well, it sort of can.

Poetry, as well as prose, can be virtually about anything. What makes praecisio unique, is that it contains nothing. Praecisio is the art of speaking by keeping silent. Here you can read/see “Le Vide (for Yves Klein)” by R.W. Watkins, which consists of three straight lines, in the mathematical definition of the word.

Minimalism partially stems from the human desire to break the record: shorter and shorter and shorter, until it disappears at all. Today is the time of open minds searching for the newest, most exquisite ways of doing things. We have been up to this since the very beginning, but it’s only recently that the misfits started gaining renown for their ingenuity. So, yes, we are probably going to read more of pieces like the aforesaid ones in the near future.

However, as to the last exapmle, praecisio is rare in literature, though constantly encountered in drama and everyday life. Praecisio takes away text’s most important tool: the word. Yet in context, much can be said with silence.

I am going to leave this entry without a conclusion, ending it with questions. What is your opinion of minimalist and visual poetry? Do you consider it the future of the art, or just an empty desire of achievement by cutting down on meaning? Should the writers that work in classic forms of prose and poetry employ the powerful tool of graphics and fonts? And can the silence of praecisio be a new way of saying if enclosed within larger pieces, such as novels?

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