lighght. Seven letters which made poetic history. Seven letters typed out on a sheet of paper by Aram Saroyan. “The difference between “lighght” and another type of poem with more words is that it doesn’t have a reading process,” says Saroyan, who lives in Los Angeles and teaches writing at the University of Southern California. 'Lighght' first appeared in The Chicago Review and later was featured in 'The American Literary Anthology', where it ran for seven pages, with one letter on each page. When the poem received $ 750 from the National Endowment for the Arts, there had been a huge uproar about wasting government funds, and there had been a letter from a taxpayer "We can't afford to lower taxes but we can pay some beatnik weirdo $ 500 to write one word..and not even spell it right." (Saroyan received $ 500 out of the 750 from the publisher).
It is a poem to be seen, not read or listened to, like Saroyan's other poem the four-legged 'm', cited in the Guiness as the world's shortest poem, variously interpreted as 'a close up of an alphabet being born' (m and n just before separation) and 'I am' implying the formation of consciousness itself. (Peopleofar.wordpress.com).
Such poems could be called visual poetry. Today most poems are meant to be read silently, for one's solitary enjoyment. Poetry reading hardly happens today, yet we have poets who write their poems for us to read aloud, to listen and enjoy among a group. But such oral poetry also limits our freedom, because we have to use words to create aural images for the listener, and often we have to try to make the poems rhyme. Then sometimes we have to use meaningless words too.
Visual poetry gives us the freedom, enjoyed by an artist, where he can use a single brush stroke or place a dot to convey an idea. An empty canvas would be a wordless poem, like the 'Blood Red Mirror' by Gerhard Richter which had been sold for US$ 1.1 million, though it was just red paint over a mirror. 'Green White' by Ellsworth Kelly had fetched $ 1.6 million, which was a large green dot on a white canvas, and could be called a one-word painting, and valued so high because it was considered a painting, while Aram Saroyan received only $ 500 for his one-word poem. Had Saroyan painted 'lighght' on a canvas, it too could have fetched a million dollars! We place different values for different forms of art.
There are also other labels like Minimalist poetry and within the Minimalist Poetry also subforms. LeRoy Gorman writes Mathematical Minimalist Poetry like his poem 'Tragedy' (! + ?)2, because "a tragedy equals a blur of exclamations and questions multiplying against each other." All such poems could be considered visual poetry, because we cannot read them aloud. If Albert Einstein had written "e = mc2" in a book of poetry, we would have tried to understand it as a poem, and if he had painted it on a canvas, it would have ended up in an art gallery.
Edwin Morgan, recognized as the most influential poet of his gifted generation, had written nine one-word poems, but the titles had several words. eg. 'A Far Cool Beautiful Thing' - 'blue'. David R. Slavitt had written a poem 'Motherless.' in 1935'. Only the word, as the poem and the title, with a period at the end. He could also have written with an exclamation mark, or a question mark. Cor van den Heuvel is reported to have written a one-word Haiku. 'tundra'. Whether it could be called a Haiku is a different issue.
There are one word songs, like 'No' by Vivian Girls. Not Squares had a two word song, 'Yeah OK'.
Senerath Paranavithana deciphered and published poems written on the Mirror-like wall at Sihigiriya. More recently Benille Priyanka published more graffiti from Sihigiriya, in which some visitors had written only one word, which Priyanka assumes to be the name of the person. One such word is 'Sihila' (No 683). Perhaps it is a one-word poem, 'Cool'. Even today a young visitor from the West could call Sihigiriya as "Cool". Another word is 'Sagama', (No. 564) preceded by the often used greeting, 'Svasti'. Priyanka takes it as an incomplete poem. The poet may have considered his one word as a poem by itself. The same could be said of 'Svasti. Sunila' (No. 380). The graffiti too could be considered visual poetry, in the same manner as the frescos.
'One Word' is an anthology edited by Molly McQuade. One article is by Joel Brouwer. He talks of one word, 'A'. He says "A hypothesizes and speculates, enjoys abstractions, prefers conjectures to conclusions. A offers up its noun for our consideration, evaluation, and possible adoption or acquisition." Brouwer brings up Neil Armstrong's famous words, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind", and says Armstrong really said "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind", and that word "a" made all the difference.
Brenda Hillman's essay is on the word 'as', "which does a lot of work without being noticed." Eric Ormsby devotes his essay to 'or', which he calls a "worker word, a syntactic functionary...it is a word which can stand alone."
There have been speculation that a poet or publisher could not claim copyright for a one word poem, because no one could claim ownership for an individual word, which belongs to all of us. Yet when we consider that a 'literary composition' means "imaginative or creative writing", a one-word composition is also a creative work.
I wish I could have written this essay with just one word.