I got an interesting e-mail today:
Does this poem suck?
I am going to defend it, I think, regardless. . .
I wouldn’t go so far to say it sucks, but that it produces no great resonance for me.
The Very Short Poem is an odd beast, perhaps a bit more hit or miss than the longer poems. Your opportunities for lyricism are smaller, so you have to rely on extra-poetical understandings to provide depth and emotional resonance for a smaller sonic line (otherwise you just have an interesting fact down on the page).
One of my favorite poems is Western Wind, an anonymous lyric from c1500:
O westron wynde when wyll thow blow
the smalle rayne downe can rayne
Cryst yf my love wer in my arms
and I yn my bed agayne
Western wind, when wilt thou blow,
That the small rain down can rain?
Christ, if my love were in my arms
And I in my bed again!
In some ways, the VSP works best in a tradition of poetry – Japanese poetry (particularly haiku/tanka) being the most obvious example. One can look for kigo in the poems, one has some idea of the basic philosophies which are being alluded to, etc.
In the west there’s the epigram and the short lyric, plus imagism and vorticism and objectivism (which draw heavily on the Japanese tradition), such as Pound’s famous:
In a Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
and Lorine Niedecker’s:
People, people -
ten dead duck's feathers
on beer can liter...
will change all that
or the more contemporary (and slightly longer) Linda Gregg:
I am reading Li Po. The T.V. is on
with the sound off.
I’ve seen this movie before.
I turn on the sound just for a moment
when the man says, “I love you.”
Then turn it off and go on reading.
In a way, we could view the best part of longer poems as VSPs, but one could argue those VSPs are enabled by the surrounding material, i.e., if one was to excise only the VSP lines from a longer poem, they would not work nearly so well on their own. For example, these:
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
are great lines. But not nearly as great as they are at the end of Fern Hill, where they ground all that wonderful lyricism. However, many try (or try to move those “good” lines into another poem). Who was it that wrote there’s no such thing as “a long poem” – was it Keats? Coleridge?
Shortest poem I’ve written:
Bravest Little Poem