Thursday, August 12, 2010

Short Poems Fascinate Me

Brevity is not a strong point of mine. So when a poet is able capture meaning or create a beautiful image using only a few lines, I'm almost always amazed. Take this one for example:
A strange old man
Stops me,
Looking out of my deep mirror.

--HITOMARO (trans. Kenneth Rexroth)
If I tried to write a poem about going older, I'd ramble on and on, probably. Stanza after stanza of lame attempts at reflecting upon the passage of time. Hitomaro does it brilliantly in 11 words. Not only that, but he keeps the meaning a secret during the first two lines, waiting until the last minute to reveal to us what the poem is really about. I also like that it's not just a mirror, but a deep mirror. Ten words would have been just fine--the poem could do without that word, "deep." But it just wouldn't be as good with only 10 words, would it?

I love finding short poems to discuss with my students. They lend themselves to zooming in on individual words. They're also good for dictation, which I don't do a ton of, but which I think is a valuable method of teaching poetry.

One thing I've been thinking about is how to get students to write short poems. Is teaching them a form (haiku, etc.) the best way to limit their "wordiness?" Do they need rules like those provided by haiku and similar forms? Or do they just need really good models to serve as mentor poems and to inspire their writing? Or maybe all of the above? I'm thinking of perhaps doing a short poems "mini-unit" this year where we spend time just reading and writing short poems. No idea yet how I'll structure this, but I'm open to suggestions!

I'll leave you with this rather famous short poem by Ezra Pound:

In a Station of the Metro 
by Ezra Pound

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

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