Sunday, July 19, 2009

Who Wears Short Shorts?

Short short poems, that is. I have to admit that I've been leery of them for years. There doesn't seem to be enough to grab my interest, not enough there to leave me pondering, not enough to call me back for repeated readings. I've never been able to muster up much interest in haiku which usually strike me as little exercises. (21st-century apology inserted here to all haiku lovers and poets.)

I heard Kay Ryan refer to her own poems as "snack poems." That's how I felt about really short poems, i.e., a snack but not a meal.

Then I found that from time to time I came across a short poem that knocked my socks off. I started collecting them like shells. Some of them called to me late at night.

I found myself trying my hand at a few shorties. I distrusted them and put them away. Too short to get a major role in a journal.

Then several months ago I was asked to submit some work to a nice online journal. I noticed that the poems in that journal tended to be short, so I dug out some of my little ones and sent them off. Two grabbed right up! I submitted a few of my formal ones to another journal. Two more snatched up. Had I been unfair to my own poems?

Then Kay Ryan was appointed Poet Laureate. Snacks can be very satisfying. Snacks can stimulate the appetite. Snacks can stave off hunger.

Before I ruin my appetite with any more of these metaphors, I want to offer you two short poems by Lola Haskins, both of them perfect gems, I think, and both from her book Desire Lines: New and Selected Poems.

She tries it on, like a dress.
She decides it doesn't fit
and starts to take it off.
Her skin comes, too.
Speaking of metaphors!

Here's another short one by Haskins:
Love and Cancer

Think small, the way ants
build their hills, a grain
at a time. If I could be
one cell in you, how ardently
I'd multiply. Until I was a hundred,
a million cells. Until I filled
so much of your X-rayed self
that if they cut me out,
you could not survive.

You'll never catch me in wearing short shorts, but you will find me with a revised opinion of short poems. And you will definitely catch me recommending Haskins' excellent collection to you. There you will find poems long and short and some in-between. There you will find many poems that satisfy and enrich you.

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  1. I've become a fan of short poems over the last year and have been striving to "write shorter."

  2. Hi Diane,

    I love the metaphor of a snack poem versus a meal. Not only because I enjoy the short poem, but also… when I am really intensely in a writing phase, where I deprive myself of sleep and outdoor interaction, I find I eat snack sized meals rather than full fork-and-knife dinners. I find there’s something about the snack that is both nourishing and satisfying, whether culinary or poetic.

    I’m definitely going to check out Haskins’ collection. You’ve done such a wonderful job of teasing us with your praise of it.


    Lori A. May

  3. Good morning Diane,
    Loved this article -since I am always a full pager--but you gave me food for thought. I write like a talk--as you've probably noticed but I suspect you'll soon see a new me on the page...excuse me--half a page at least!
    Grateful Gloria

  4. Diane, I came here from She Writes, and I love this "snack poem" idea! I find myself most often writing shorter poems, and it's nice to have a new way to think about them.


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