I am on a small journey to help me understand what the definition of a poem is to different people, what poems mean to them.
This made me wonder, some poems are longer than others, so:
How short can a poem be until it can no longer be a poem?
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The shortest poems are
by Aram Saroyan.
Unlike a work of prose, which has a generally accepted predefined length (be it a short story, novella, novel, etc.) poetry is not governed by such precepts. Poetry is akin to art. A white canvas with a single stroke of paint on it can be a painting, if that is the intention of its creator. A poem can be any number of words, or just one, or even one letter, if that is the intent of its author. Public acceptance of such a work as a poem, however, is another matter entirely. Nearly 100 years ago, Marcel Duchamp submitted a urinal labelled "R.Mutt" to an art exhibition, and people have been arguing "Is it art?" ever since.
A poem is made of words, whether spoken or written. Words are made of sounds that are conventionally accepted by two or more people.
So, while sound/s articulated and conventionally accepted by two or more people can be considered words... whether they are considered poems depends on both the creator and the recipient, speaker and listener.
Here's my example poem(?) for you:
Doesn't that qualify? It rhymes, keeps a meter, and "says" more than it says. That's pretty much my definition of poetry. Not saying it's any good, though. Even more minimal:
(Wow, that's soooo deep. The minimalism powerfully evokes the impoverishment of social interactions in a technological society, especially with regard to oppressed minority groups.)
Since asking the question, I stumbled across another single-letter poem.
I was skeptical about accepting such poems as true poems, but this is a rather neat one I have to say:
The letter i with the author's own unique thumbprint to complete it. The thumbprint is the most meaningful symbol that can express the meaning of the object it labels - more so than a name (names rarely are unique, at least in English).
Here's the dictionary.com definition of poem:
a composition in verse, especially one that is characterized by a highly developed artistic form and by the use of heightened language and rhythm to express an intensely imaginative interpretation of the subject.
The problem, which everyone is indicating with their answers is the portion that states:
highly developed artistic form
That's so open to interpretation that poem is hardly defined any more. Instead of being a specific form it seems to be defined only by consensus. The difficulty with consensus is that if you are not on the inside then your work simply will not be considered.
I think the definition helps to put some boundaries on what a poem might be.
Particularly this part of the definition shows you what to aim for:
use of heightened language and rhythm to express an intensely imaginative interpretation of the subject
With that, I do not know how a single letter or word could really achieve that.