Micropoetry, a reflection

My entry into micropoetry

Recently, as I’ve noted, I completed a series of 365 micropoems, all of which I’ve scheduled to be posted on my Twitter account at a rate of one per day until Dec. 31st, 2021 (actually, until Jan. 1st, 2022). This experience, as you can imagine, has given me a feel for micropoetry and has fueled my interest in it. In fact, as you may have noticed, I continue posting the occasional ‘American Sentence’ here at the Skeptic’s Kaddish, and I am likely to play more with some other short forms in the future.

My curiosity regarding this genre of poetry led me to a video created by a poet named Adam Gary, in which he reflects upon micropoetry’s pros and cons:

This video drove home how disconnected I am from most social media networks, for Adam refers to micropoetry as ‘instapoetry’, which, apparently, is very popular on Instagram. Apparently, the relatively modern phenomenon of micropoetry, or at least its dramatic growth in popularity, has been largely fueled by the Internet and the modern reader’s increasing impatience for longer texts.

I mention this because I came to micropoetry from an entirely different direction. Late last year, my friend Ingrid challenged herself to post one poem daily in 2021; and I thought, “Hey, that’s a terrific idea! I’ll give it a go.” Essentially, Ingrid was my entry into exploring and writing micropoetry because she’d had the idea of publishing her daily poems on Twitter, which I merely adopted. Before taking on this challenge for 2021, I didn’t even have a Twitter account.

Even today, I still don’t have an Instagram account, and I am almost entirely inactive on Twitter, which I have been using only to post my daily micropoems.


My attitude at the outset

On the one hand, I have always tended towards traditionalism. Modern art, for example, has been more likely to leave me feeling nonplussed and critical than the realism of Rembrandt. My emotional reaction to a bunch of geometric shapes on a canvas could very well be positive, but it would also likely be somewhat dismissive: “Give me a break – even I could paint that!”

On the other hand, the older I’ve gotten (I’m in my early forties now), the less judgmental I’ve become. I’ve always been curious to understand other people, and, over time, my curiosity has led me to interact with people of many different backgrounds and worldviews.

On listening:

Listening is being able to be changed by the other person.

Alan Alda (b. 1936)

An ‘American Sentence’:

Sincere curiosity has led me to listen, which has changed me.

So, over time, I’ve come to increasingly see things through other people’s eyes; and my exploration of many short poetic forms has led me to conclude that this is something that serious poets take seriously. Micropoetry is something that writers and readers both find meaningful. Why would poets continue developing and employing short poetic forms otherwise?


The craft, or: The crafter

Adam Gary’s video explores the impact of micropoetry upon “the craft” of poetry, upon its reputation, upon the extent to which it draws people to poetry or pushes them away. I’m in agreement with all of his points, as well as with his conclusion.

Nevertheless, when I decided to write out this reflection on micropoetry, I had a different angle in mind. I would like to discuss the extent to which micropoetry can be meaningful and impactful for the individual writer and reader. I would like to explore how severely limiting one’s word or syllable count shapes a poet’s creative process. I would like to think with you about whether short poems are inherently inferior to longer poems.

Personally meaningful

Look, Friends, at the end of the day, we are the ones who create meaning for ourselves. This is something that I’ve come to be convinced of, as I’ve long been the sort to throw myself into various organizations and projects. When I was younger, I used to think that joining organizations was meaningful… In retrospect, I realize that it was mostly about the enthusiasm that I brought to them.

The same, I would say, applies to poetic forms and genres. I went into my daily poetry project intending to have a meaningful experience. What would the point have been otherwise? And, now, having completed those 365 micropoems, if you were to ask, “David, was that a meaningful experience?” I would respond to you with an unequivocal, “Yes.”

It has been so eye-opening and educational to discover and play with endless poetic forms. Whenever I work with them, I think about how to push their limits; how they shape my words; and how they lend themselves to various themes. I read up on them if information is available, hoping to understand the contexts out of which they were birthed before I try my hand at them. Sometimes, I deliberately pull forms in entirely different directions than those that they were intended for; sometimes I embrace them… Always, it’s meaningful.

Severe limitations

Again, it’s clear to me that nothing is inherently meaningful. One could write a meaningless haiku with no effort, right? It’s all about the syllable count: 5-7-5.

Attempt at meaningless haiku

a tree grows outside
roots, trunk, knots, branches and leaves
it simply exists

But – when one goes into writing micropoetry in an attempt to create meaning for one’s self and for others… well… that’s different. It’s all about the intent. So, assuming that you have the right attitude, I would say that micropoetry presents a unique challenge.

Look at it this way: if poems of any length can contain equal quantities of meaning (not that I have any idea how to measure relative degrees of meaning), this suggests that shorter poems must somehow pack in and convey meaningfulness with fewer syllables, words, and lines.

I can tell you that writing micropoems took me much longer than I’d expected at the start of my Twitter poetry project back in January. In fact, even after I would publish them (I would first publish them to my blog and afterwards to Twitter), I would more often than not go back to tweak them, dissatisfied with the images and ideas that particular words conjured up for me. Every word mattered profoundly.


The lengths of meaning

As I’ve already made clear above, I don’t think that longer poems are inherently more meaningful than shorter poems; and this realization has actually given me an much increased appreciation for modern art, which I used to rather look down upon.

One question I’ve asked myself, which I don’t have an answer to, is:

Assuming that longer poems are more meaningful than shorter poems, where does one draw the line? How long does a poem have to be in order to create and convey meaning? Is it 100 words? 50? 25?

In large part, it’s my inability to answer that above question which leads me to think that one cannot draw legitimate conclusions about how meaningful any particular poem of any given length is to its readers.


In summary

In reading this post, keep in mind that I’ve only been writing poetry for 1½ years, and I have no published poetry books to my name. I am no professional poet, only a lay person, a hobbyist. So, feel free to take everything I write with a grain of salt.

Still, despite my limited experience, I have thrown myself into writing poetry very earnestly, and I am confident in my conclusions, at least insofar as they ring true to me.

I don’t have an Instagram account, and therefore I’ve never been exposed to the banal micropoetry that Adam Gary refers to in his video; but it’s very easy for me to imagine because, as I’ve demonstrated, it’s not so hard to write a meaningless haiku. Having said that, I can only reiterate that it’s all about the intention and effort writers put into their poems.

True, it’s easier to fudge shorter poems, but, on the other hand, for those who are seeking to create meaningful verses, micropoetry presents an amazing opportunity and challenge.

I’m so incredibly glad that I gave myself the experience of writing 365 such pieces.


P.S. Shabbat Shalom!

I’m offline for the Jewish Sabbath for ~25 hours from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday. I look forward to reconnecting with you soon!

21 thoughts on “Micropoetry, a reflection”

  1. You’re right. I am resistant to new things. I am resistant to modern art. And when I saw one of Alan Ginsberg’s adaptations of a famous Basho Haiku I was offended, rather than amused or impressed or diverted. I am glad he invented the American Sentence as it is its own form and I can read it without it clashing with my own ideas of what Haiku might be like. Like all art, enjoyment of poetry is subjective and I guess we are all influenced by the types of poetry we have been exposed to early on. Like JYP I can’t see myself setting the sort of challenge you set yourself. I write poetry because I love words and images. When I write to a form it introduces maths which is a fun exercise but it’s not my favourite thing about writing poetry. So I like experimenting with poetic form occasionally just as, when at school, I liked maths as a diversion from all my essay writing.

    1. Worms,

      I am glad he invented the American Sentence as it is its own form and I can read it without it clashing with my own ideas of what Haiku might be like.

      This makes me think of how I used to dislike soy milk because I expected it to taste like milk, and then I started to think of it as a soy “beverage” and was able to better enjoy it.

      we are all influenced by the types of poetry we have been exposed to early on.

      Yes, I think, at the end of the day, this is the basic truth. As you say, it’s subjective. Mostly, I think my conclusion is that it’s not inherently worse than longer forms of poetry.

      Also – I would say one more thing, which is that micropoetry doesn’t necessarily have to follow any form – one could just write a free verse micropoem, which focuses on “words and images” as you put it.


      David

  2. I definitely agree that short poems can pack a lot in and can sometimes be worth a lot more than longer ones. Longer ones do get you more stage time when they are being performed, though – which sometimes puts those of us who are more concise at a bit of a disadvantage. Oh, well. I still think a poem should only be as long as it needs to be to get the message across.

  3. I love your experimental approach this year David and applaud you committing to your goal. Love you have enjoyed the micro-poetry and it brings your life meaning which is the main thing. Also, near 4,000 people love it too! Bravo! Love the video and the draw to bring more people into writing. 💖

    1. 🤍 Cindy 🤍 – thank you.

      TBH, I think that number includes tons of inactive bloggers and commercial blogs that are for profit… The number of “real people” is much lower.

      🙂
      David

  4. The idea (I think according to traditional poets) was that you had to be educated to a certain level to be able to write longer poems – you had to have learned meter, vocabulary, rhyme, etc. It might be that bias at work against the micropoetry forms. And of course they were writing for people that had achieved a similar level of education and experience. The limerick has been the black sheep for centuries. It was nearly always written using “common” language and on topics that were not considered “elevated”. I appreciate good micropoetry that makes me think. It needs to have some turn/volta that takes me in another direction. Or in some cases needs to poke fun at convention, have some sarcasm, or take a more irreverent stance. The form is suppose to condense the idea and express it in a compact vehicle. The other goal is to create that emotional connection to the audience. I’m always looking for a universal experience so that anyone reading can relate to the words in their own life. In that way the micropoetry posted on instagram or twitter can count the successfulness of the poet….

    1. 💚 Muri 💚

      I appreciate good micropoetry that makes me think. It needs to have some turn/volta that takes me in another direction. Or in some cases needs to poke fun at convention, have some sarcasm, or take a more irreverent stance. The form is suppose to condense the idea and express it in a compact vehicle. The other goal is to create that emotional connection to the audience.

      Is that different than what you expect from longer forms, Muri?

      -David

  5. Interestingly, the first thing I was going to say was how much I liked that piece of art you chose to illustrate your post. As you point out with words, it’s difficult to simplify. Not just anyone can do things that appear to be easy, or at least they can’t do it well.

    I know the reputation of Instagram poets, but there’s bad art everywhere, of all shapes and sizes. That was true before people could post it online for everyone to see. I would never discourage anyone from creating. On the other hand, the craving for fame and instant gratification I find distasteful.

    1. … there’s bad art everywhere, of all shapes and sizes… the craving for fame and instant gratification I find distasteful.

      I’m there with you, Kerfe – that’s my perspective too.


      David

  6. Hi Ben, your comment about the challenge of micro poetry and how the intent and the need to make every word count is what has drawn me to haiku. It can, as you mentioned, be poorly written. But a great haiku has the ability to capture a moment in time. There is a famous saying, which I will paraphrase here and hope the meaning is conveyed, that says a haiku master may only write a handful of great haikus in their lifetime. Whereas good haiku poet may never write a great haiku. Writing short form poetry can be difficult!

    1. a haiku master may only write a handful of great haikus in their lifetime.

      I love that idea, Mark! It both provides perspective and takes the performance pressure off.

      Thanks!
      David

      P.S. Please feel free to call me ‘David’ – because that is my first name. The word ‘ben’ means ‘son of’ in Russian, and my father’s name was ‘Alexander’… My pen name is confusing – sorry about that!

      1. Hi David, thanks for the clarification on ben. I think I had used your David before but must have forgotten! My bad! Hope all is well.

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