Lit Bit: A Defense of the Micropoem

The micropoem is not quite a recent discovery, a species of poem that unfolds itself in the shortest space possible.  Its name is new, though its brevity is not.  To find examples in the wild, search Twitter with one of the following hashtags: #micropoem, #micropoetry, #haiku, #tanka, #sixwords, #senryu. There are others you could use. Just “#poem” will bring up examples, but the results will also be peppered with other things about poetry.

The micropoem is a border species, kind of like the prose poem. As a border species, it can overlap with other forms, notably established ones such as haiku or senryu, because each of these is so very short.  But micropoems really only have one requirement: that they fit within the character limit imposed by their method of delivery, usually 140 characters (Twitter).

A few months ago, a friend of mine asked about micropoems.  Now, I admit a bit of bias.  I write micro micropoetry myself, and it’s a form very dear to my heart.  She said she didn’t how micropoems could be considered poems, being the tiny strings of language that they are.  And they are tight: little coiled constructions that can uncurl into a heartbreak, a burning image, a sharp punch.  Like the prose poem, there are weird borders, tracts of no-man’s-land, where the boundaries are fuzzy.  What is a poem and what is just a sentence?

But the short forms aren’t babes in the cradle.  Haiku trades in high contrast natural images, while senryu stakes out the very human, the ironic, the sly.  Now, short free verse sits under this micro-umbrella, too, and my heart belongs as always to that lawless land.  What about these unruly bits of verse?  Poem or statement?

Their claim on the label of poetry has as much to do with intentionality as with careful language, as much to do with chosen image as with techniques of sound.  This is what what marks the poetic even in the presence of the prose poem.  It helps to define the shape of the micropoem, as well.  Poetry cares where you take a breath.  Poetry cares where you slow down, or where your eye lands.  Poetry cares what sounds hit your ears and what shapes hit your eyes as you read.  Prose, while you can decorate it, doesn’t care about these things as much.  They are not a part of the message.  These techniques are integral to a poem’s meaning.  Prose can, and sometimes does, do without… though I don’t tend to like it as much when it does without.  Even in the absence of the line break, the poem stands out.

The restraint on the size of a micropoem also makes a difference.  It is the modern poetic poster-child of a controlled form.  Like the rigid structure of a sonnet, the strict cap on length both limits and expands the types of things the poet can explore.  Any constraint has this potential.  But a micropoem’s brevity can carry the force of the last two lines of an English sonnet, the break-and-turn of that form’s final couplet.  That’s real power.

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