For the casual reader of poetry, I think the following equation generally proves true:
Short poem = Poem I might read.
Even for those of us who feel a dedication to the reading of poetry, the short form offers some relief. When sizing up a new, slender book of poems, I will admittedly hit the acknowledgements, then look for something short I can sidle up to. Where’s the crime in that? It’s true that longer works, with their ambitious piling of image and juxtaposition, offer a larger canvas for the intellect. But life is already crammed pretty damn full, and occasionally, without too much effort I’d like discovery’s quick intake of breath, something concentrated and sharp while the coffee brews, a flock of birds scared up against the morning.
This week, celebrate National Poetry Month with a sampling of four short and wonderful poems by Atticus poets.
“At the Lake,” by Mike Finley sets the reader up with a lovely description of a day on the water—a first line that bobs and swells like pontoons near the dock—before complicating the impression with a strong and unexpected turn. A poem of this length connects with the immediacy of visual art, like a series of calm blue geometric shapes dashed and balanced with a streak of red.
Meg Johnson’s “The Guest” shows how a short poem, with a brief muscular flex, can imply the depth and layers of a human relationship. The humor here balances a painful moment as the poem’s brevity belies its expansion, its deadly aim.
The only of our four poems arranged into stanzas, “A Tuning Peg,” like any short-form art, puts focus on its distilled elements. Mark Mitchell’s syntax, in this case, comes to the forefront. The poem’s first two couplets form passive and complete sentences, reflections of an unplayed instrument’s sad isolation. The final three couplets begin to rev and take on the dynamism of action, of “playing,” and desire.
Short poems look inviting on the page, lots of white space rushing in around the edges, the poem itself blocked tightly together like something stamped. “Tapioca” by Marc Paltrineri looks like I could grip it in my palm, as it similarly tries to hold the smallest and most wondrous of moments to the page. The poem eschews punctuation—a decision that seems to imply the timelessness of summer, and of time shared—but still feels composed of a single sentence. For such a short piece, “Tapioca” travels from the general to the most intimate, satisfies in its trajectory and leaves us wishing the song and its mood would continue.
Photo by Nina Yang