The traditional poet’s greatest challenge is surely the avoidance of cliché. It takes great effort to eradicate from a composition, made harder by the fact that in the throes of writing, it can be difficult to detect. Adding to the agony is the task of its extraction—oft at the cost of a much-loved idea.
I continue my work on the “Autumn” poem, extracting from its many stanza variations those that best express the theme.
The composition consists of eight couplets. Presently, I have whittled the variations for each down to two for the first couplet, one for the second, third and fourth couplets, two for the fifth couplet, one for the sixth couplet, and five for the seventh and eighth couplets—most of these have internal refinements yet to be made.
Now and then, a new idea for a variation interrupts me, but it is a welcome delay. I hope to have a final draft in January.
A poem is the sublimation of words—the transfiguration of phrases through all the devices of language available to the poet—into a work of art. Through theme and style, it transforms an abstract idea into something perceivable and comprehensible when read, recited or heard.
A traditional poem is not mere rhyme, a modern poem not mere prose. To be a poem, a composition must transcend the common function of language. How it does so is up to the poet.
At the extreme of modern poetry, Aram Saroyan tampers with the very construction of letters and words to transform them into “one-letter” and “one-word poems”. In an infamous example, he adds a fourth leg to the letter “m”, creating a symbol that may be interpreted in any number of fanciful ways; in another, he modifies the spelling of “light” to read “lighght” (and in yet another, “eye” to read “eyeye”)1 to produce a kind of orthoepic novelty.
If these “compositions” are Poetry, they are barely so. They do the absolute minimum to be worthy of the title—low incarnations that mock the very discipline they profess to represent.
Such works receive the participation trophy but not the prize. Titillating to consume and quickly discarded for the next extreme, they are surely as unfulfilling to the poet as to the society that looks to him for Beauty, Clarity and Redemption which cleverness alone cannot supply.
- In both instances, the misspelt word by itself constitutes the entirety of the poem (hence “one-word poem”).