On Short Form

One of my first favorite poets was Emily Dickinson.  At the time I fell in love with her, I think it was mostly because of the bleeding-heart idealism of being a seventh grade girl who, probably luckily, had not even a clue about the magnificent construction and sexual undertones of Emily’s work.  Nor did I have any idea of who she was or how she wrote.  But, damn, did she have some beautifully swooning lines.  And her work was short.  Rich, beautiful, complex and short, like petit fours or nougat filled truffles or those damn chocolate glazed doughnut holes where you swear you’re just going to eat one but because the first one was so good you’re halfway through the carton before you catch your breath.

But really, this is about poetry.

I’ve since grown up enough (to learn not to buy the stupid doughnut holes) to realize that part of what makes both Emily’s work and the work of many other short form poets so delicious is the tiny size of it. When you have so few words to work with, a poet is forced to spend an excessive amount of time choosing them.  The words are worried over, brushed and polished and placed just so…and then the reader gets to devour them all in one perfect, fast luxurious bite.

To step away from the food metaphor, the other advantage is that one can read – and reread – short pieces.  The good ones are so often layered and surprising, ever changing…and now I’m aching to work in an everlasting gobstopper simile.  Damn.

I’ve always been a little long winded myself (shocking, I know) and initially steered away from shorter forms because I never believed I could say what I was trying to in only a handful of words, but recently, the game of it has become addicting.  All that time spent refining and refining, trying to see how many words I can extract before the image falls apart, paring it down to the bare bones and standing amazed by how many words I never really needed.  It’s beautiful.  It’s intense revision, the kind I’m trying to apply to larger pieces with good results.

One of those is in this months issue of Four and Twenty, a lovely journal of short form poetry.  Quick and easy to read, too, for those who are not great fans of poetry.

Not that I’m comparing myself to Emily, though, because she still is queen.

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