Wee poems

I’ve got a short poem on A Handful of Stones at the moment, and so I thought I’d write something about the appeal of the many forms which come within the definition – if there is a definition.

Some years back Alec Finlay published Atoms of Delight, in his pocketbooks series, and it included a whole selection of different types of work. Haiku were there of course, but so too were two-line poems, one-line poems, and one-word poems (where the title was usually a long and often cryptic clue to the one word which followed). This was a form sometimes used by Ian Hamilton Finlay. The title of the anthology was taken from Neil Gunn, who developed a late interest in short forms (and Zen of course). There are several of my haiku in it, together with a note recalling a conversation I had with Alan Spence about Norman MacCaig’s view of ‘wee poems’.

Haiku are too well known to need description here, but some shorter forms don’t have a formal definition, and some might argue that they aren’t strictly ‘poems’, or not complete poems, merely poetic fragments – Alec’s ‘atoms’. I can’t remember which of Lewis Carroll’s characters said something about words meaning what he chose to make them mean, and that’s maybe what it boils down to. If a poet says that a two-line fragment is a poem, then that’s maybe what it is.

Have a look at A Handful of Stones, and see what you think. I think it’s a delightful site, full of small wonders.


About sunnydunny

Poet, publisher, gardener
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7 Responses to Wee poems

  1. deemikay says:

    It was Humpty. 🙂

    `I don't know what you mean by "glory",' Alice said.

    Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. `Of course you don't — till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"'

    `But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument",' Alice objected.

    `When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'

    `The question is,' said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

    `The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master — that's all.'


    I'm a fan of short poems… I used to gather lots of mine together under the title "Shorts". But I don't do that any more. I personally think that when there is agreement within a group that a something is a poem, then it's a poem.

  2. Colin Will says:

    deemikay: Thanks for that. I seem to remember a similar argument during the M H Tea Party over the riddle, "Why is a raven like a writing desk?" It's too long ago since I read my Carroll though.

  3. deemikay says:

    I'm got a sort of semi-ex-professional interest (not many mathematicians who are also writers in the world!)

    The raven/writing desk riddle… yes, that was at the tea party And remains unanswered. One (of many answers) I read for it was:

    Q) Why is a raven like a writing desk?
    A) Because there's a b in both and a p in neither.

    It's sort of Carroll-esque. 🙂

  4. Colin Will says:

    There was something about "You might as well say that 'I mean what I say is the same as I say what I mean'", thereby demonstrating the non-commutative properties of language.

  5. deemikay says:

    "Non-commutative"… now there's a word. 🙂

  6. Jim Murdoch says:

    Yes, I wrote a post about this a while ago about knowing when enough is enough. I have, as I'm sure you have too, a number of poems where there is a cracking line or two that is framed by a not very good rest-of-poem. There is often a temptation to overwork these little gems. A diamond is beautiful all on its own and its setting often detracts from it. It's nice to have places where they can be displayed to good effect like this. There are a few sites online that cater for poems of this ilk. Camroc Press Review is one I stumbled across a wee while ago; they published four of my shorter pieces as a group which worked well.

  7. Colin Will says:

    Thanks for that Jim. I must bookmark Camroc Press Review – I haven't come across it before.

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