Wednesday, April 05, 2006

And from

I signed up with for a poem a day to come to my mailbox every day. Louise Gluck, our former Poet Laureate, kicked the series off on the first day. The poems are indeed a treat. Yesterday's post from them was more unusual. I'll post it below in its entirety (the questions are theirs). I'd be curious how you'd answer some of these. Yes, this is a one word poem. Not a typo.I posted this on my MySpace blog yesterday and also asked if you had to write a poem of one word, what would it be?

One-Word Poem
by David R. Slavitt



Discussion questions.(from

Is this a joke? And, if so, is it a joke of the poet in which the editor of the magazine (or, later, the book publisher or the textbook writers) has conspired? Or is it a joke on the editors and publishers? Is the reader the audience of the poem?
It is regrettable not to have a mother. Is the purpose of the poem to convey an emotion to the reader? Does the poet suppose that this is the saddest word in the language? Do you agree or disagree? Can you suggest a sadder word?
The Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary gives an alternate meaning from nineteenth- and twentieth-century Australian slang as an intensifier, as in “stone motherless broke.” Can you assume that the poet knew this? Does this make for an ambiguity in the poem? Does this information change your emotional response?
If the assertion of the single word as a work of art is not a joke, then what could it mean? Is it a Dada-ist gesture, amusing and cheeky perhaps but with an underlying seriousness that the poet either invites or defies the reader to understand?
Even if the poet was merely fooling around, does that necessarily diminish the possible seriousness of the poem?
If we acknowledge that this is a work of art, can the author assert ownership? Is it possible to copyright a one-word poem?
In writing a one-word poem, the crucial decision must be which word to choose and to posit as a work of art. Do you think the poet spent a great deal of time picking this word? Or did he simply open a dictionary and let his fingers do the walking? Does that diminish the poem’s value? Or is it a kind of bibliomancy?
Should the word have been in quotes? Or is it quotes even without being in quotes? There is a period at the end of the poem. Would it change the meaning of the poem if there were an exclamation point? Or no punctuation at all? Would that be a different poem? Better or worse? Or would you like it more or less? (Are these different questions?)
You can almost certainly write—or “write”—a one-word poem. But it would be difficult for you to get it published—almost certainly more difficult now that this one has been published and staked its claim. Is the publication of a poem a part of the creative act? Had the poet written his poem and put it away in his desk drawer as Emily Dickinson used to do, would this make it a different poem?
Some poems we read and some that we particularly like, we memorize. You have already memorized this one. Do you like it better now? Or are the questions part of the poem, so that you have not yet memorized it? Will you, anyway? Do you need to memorize the questions verbatim, or is the idea enough?


Lyle Daggett said...

The fact is, my answer to most of the questions is "I don't know," though that's off the top of my head. If I really took time to answer all of them I'd be at it all year. It is an interesting way of asking questions about what poetry is.

Many many years ago (I was still in high school, as I recall, so the early '70's), in a poetry anthology (probably published at least a few years before that) were a few one-word poems by Aram Saroyan, if I'm remembering correctly.

I remember at the time speculating about what kind of theoretical basis the poet might give for writing one-word poems. (I could imagine the general tone of the hypothetical theories, but I didn't work too hard at imagining the actual words.)

Certainly I've seen plenty of visual art that seems to me the equivalent of a one-word poem -- a single black or blue or red dot in the middle of a white canvas, that sort of thing -- and have run across (though don't remember well) art theory and criticism about such paintings.

It makes me think also of the notion of one-line poems, also a little bit of an oddity, though also quite difficult to write well, since (if written well) they can actually say something poemish, to use a word. (Poemic?)

The one-word poem also leads me to think about the opposite extreme -- a poem of massive size, massive many words, a poem in which no words are left out. (The comedian Stephen Wright once said, "The first time I read the dictionary I thought it was a poem about everything.)

When I was in a poetry writing class one summer (1970) between my sophomore and junior years in high school, one day I wrote a two-word poem (with no title): "He died." (The quote marks weren't part of the poem.)

I brought the two-word poem to class. Everyone pretty much agreed that it wasn't really a poem, or anyway that even if it was, there wasn't much of consequence going on in it.

I once had a notion to write a "poem" made up of just one punctuation mark (probably a comma) in the middle of a page, about one-quart of the way down -- as a parody of post-modernism. I didn't write it because I couldn't figure out how to read it out loud.

I'll try an experiment here. Here is my one-word poem, which is also a poem of one letter plus one punctuation mark:


Lyle Daggett said...

Typo near the end of my previous comment. I meant to say, of course, "one quarter of the way down..." (Not "one quart...")

Pris said...

Hi Lyle,
I've seen the experimental poems, too, consisting of a dot in the middle of the page or verious similar visual effects and I don't know quite what to make of them either. Since I don't, I won't even try to say anything, because those sorts of self-expressions are so far from what I'm familiar with or do, I wouldn't have a clue what to say.

Pris said...

typo for me too..'verious' should be 'various'.

Berenice said...

This one jumped out at me Pris. Yesterday I heard a friend had lost his mother this week and it has been haging around on my mind as such things do. So you can guess how this "poem" struck me.

NB: I wonder is it fair of me to type "poem" in thus? :-)

Ps: Would you consider posting your post or a link to it on Bag End?

Berenice said... Hanging not haging!!

Pris said...

We seem to be the typo trio this morning:-)

I'll copy/paste the whole article up on Bag End. People less often follow links. There was a lot more discussion of this on MySpace, so I may include a link at the bottom to that to see what people said there.

And I can see why that word would jump out at you.

erin said...

My one word poem:


Pris said...

Oh, I like that word!

Ellen M Johns said...

Trying to type this reply without a typo!!!Ha.

Well, I read this with interestand intrigue.

I once saw one brush stroke of a single colour paint and it was described as a work of art. Therefore, a single word could equally be described as a poem in my opinion.

I think the same can be said for short verbal expressions too. A politician or similar could deliver a speech that has taken hours of work and decades of research to prepare, only to have it wiped out as "meaningless" by the delivery of a "sigh" or "tut-tut".

This is my take on on it anyway.

Pris said...

Makes sense to me!