It’s easiest to start with a thought exercise. Let’s imagine that all of creative writing is a chocolate dessert buffet.
The Chocolate Dessert Buffet
Fiction is the chocolate cake, because it has a good volume of words, and the crumb structure of fiction, eg. plot, character, dialogue, setting, etc. is very important. A novel might be a multi-tied chocolate cake.
A chapter would be a slice of the cake. You still have the volume, crumb structure and layers of plot, setting, character and so on, but it’s a manageable section of the novel-cake to enjoy in one sitting. A chapter, like a slice of cake, doesn’t stand alone on its own – it’s part of a larger novel-cake.
Continuing our analogy, short story and flash fiction would be a cupcake. Still the same cake consistency of fiction, but in smaller size. Unlike the chapter-slice, the short story-cupcake is a a stand alone cake in itself.
The Poetry Section of the Buffet
Still with me? Let’s move past the fiction-cake section and on to the poetry section of the buffet.
What is poetry? Poetry takes out all of fluffy unnecessary words of fiction, leaving a richer, more intense chocolate flavor and a more luscious dessert experience. Something so rich and concentrated, you only need a few bites to be satisfied. The texture of a poem is more like a mousse or ganache – deep, rich, luscious, intense.
A formal poem might be more of a layered mousse dessert. Something with distinct formally layered stanzas, where the structure of the mousse to ensure the right amount of air is whipped in for the desired syllabic texture is critically important.
Whereas a free-verse poem might be more of a rich dark chocolate ganache truffle. Where it’s really about concentrating those images, sharpening the language, and intensifying that dark chocolate flavor, more so than following a specific structure.
In either case, poetry has that deep rich intensity of flavor, image, and language. A poem gives a satisfying dessert/reading experience with its brevity because it’s so rich.
A micropoem is a single M&M candy.
Wikipedia has some interesting information about the history of M&Ms:
Forrest Mars, Sr., son of the Mars Company founder, Frank C. Mars, copied the idea for the candy in the 1930s during the Spanish Civil War when he saw soldiers eating British-made Smarties, chocolate pellets with a colored shell of what confectioners call hard panning (essentially hardened sugar syrup) surrounding the outside, preventing the sweets (candies) from melting. Mars received a patent for his own process on March 3, 1941. …The company’s first big customer was the U.S. Army, which saw the invention as a way to allow soldiers to carry chocolate in tropical climates without it melting…Wikipedia
In other words, M&M’s require some noteworthy engineering and technical skill to produce. I respect the science, innovation, and history behind M&M’s (well, except for the part where they basically ripped the idea off the British). I mean, M&M’s were the first candy in space!
But do M&M’s taste good? Are they satisfying? Personally, I think not.
Sure, you get some chocolate (plain, diluted milk chocolate, not good quality dark chocolate), but what you mostly get are the hard candy shell limits of form distracting from the chocolate. Even if the content is decent (eg. a dark chocolate M&M – do these even exist?), what you mostly taste is the form shell, which tastes annoying and disappointing.
The portion size is also unsatisfying. An M&M-sized amount of crappy milk chocolate in an even crappier candy shell does not in any way satisfy my cravings for either chocolate or poetry. Calling a single M&M dessert is insulting to the true dessert-lover.
My dislike of micropoetry comes down to this: I can respect the technical skill and craft behind writing in micropoetic forms. But I do not like micropoetry because I find it deeply unsatisfying in content and flavor.
Craft, Meaning, and Satisfaction
ben Alexander wrote about how he came to appreciate the craft of micropoetry, the challenge of fitting a poem into a limited number of syllables and/or a tight form. Ultimately, meaning is in the eye of the beholder, but ben Alexander wrote that he found meaning as both a reader and writer of micropoetry – studying the different micro-forms, learning their history and context, and taking on the challenge of cramming meaning into a shorter form.
I agree with ben Alexander on craft and technical skill. Writing poetry in microform with strict syllable/word count is not easy. I somewhat agree with ben Alexander on meaning, in the sense that I don’t think that longer poems necessarily convey more meaning, or that there is a minimum word count for meaning. I do think ben Alexander is overgeneralizing when he says that micropoetry is something that both writers and readers find meaningful. (This is certainly not true for all writers and readers.)
Where I disagree is that I think there’s another quality of poetry that goes beyond meaning – satisfaction. Poetry should be rich enough that the language, imagery and flavor linger on your tongue. Yes, meaning can play a role in creating that satisfying experience, but I think satisfaction in poetry goes beyond meaning. If all I wanted was pithy meaningful sayings, I would buy a calendar of inspirational quotes. With poetry, I want something more. Micropoetry more often than not doesn’t give that poetic satisfaction.
I will now overinflate my self-importance by answering some potential questions about my dislike of micropoetry.
Do you hate all micropoetry?
No. There have been times when I’ve read micropoems that I truly enjoyed. When I actually tasted rich chocolate of poetry and not the annoying saccharine shell of the form, or even when the shell actually enhanced the deep chocolate with sweetness and texture. (I will say that this happens a lot less often than micropoetry enthusiasts say that it does.) By and large, I don’t like micropoetry, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t exceptions.
Is micropoetry your least favorite form of poetry?
Actually, no. I can appreciate the tiny amount of chocolate and the technical skill and engineering in a micropoem. It isn’t satisfying at all, but there’s an attempt to use language in a creative way.
My least favorite form of poetry is the blitz. The blitz involves stringing together short phrases in a short period of time (essentially causing you to rely on cliché, because that’s what comes to mind first) with a weirdly specific number of lines and weirdly specific rules for the last lines. In my opinion, stringing together clichés does not produce poetry; it produces cliché, which is the opposite of good poetry. In the creative writing chocolate dessert buffet analogy, the blitz would be a Tootsie Roll – corn syrup with a little bit of chocolate flavor and color to trick you into thinking there’s actual chocolate. This is an even more insulting dessert experience than the micropoem-M&M candy.
But I love micropoetry! What should I do now knowing that you don’t like it?
Do you like doughnuts? Avocados? French toast? Olives?
I hate all of those things. I could write passionately about how much I hate them – how very overrated avocados are, how very awful the texture of a doughnut is, how I can’t stand even the smell of French toast. I’ve already written about how much I hate olives.
But you might like one of those things, maybe all of them. And if you love doughnuts, I don’t expect you to stop liking doughnuts just because some random stranger on the internet said she didn’t like them. You should think of my dislike of micropoetry the same way.
Why don’t you do a micropoem-a-day challenge so you learn to appreciate it?
Not interested. I appreciate the technical craft of writing micropoetry. I don’t like the end product. Knowing the skill involved doesn’t cause me to find it satisfying or enjoyable. Like no matter how much I listen to experts like Paul Hollywood talk about the technical aspects of making perfect doughnuts and eclairs (I also hate all things choux pastry) on The Great British Bake Off, it doesn’t make me like doughnuts and eclairs. Or even make me dislike them less. For me, writing a micropoem a day would be like opening up a doughnut bakery or starting an avocado farm – a lot of effort for a product that I don’t like.
But you only improve when you step out of your comfort zone!
True, forcing yourself out of your comfort zone can expose you to different styles and gets you out of old habits. And it’s certainly true that reading helps one grow as a writer. But here’s where I disagree:
- I don’t agree that stepping out of one’s comfort zone by writing in a style you don’t enjoy is the only way to improve is a writer. I would argue that actually, the most important thing to do to improve as a writer is to be open to getting constructive feedback on your writing, and being open to revising your writing based on that constructive feedback.
- There’s a matter of priority. Expanding my repertoire of poetry styles to include micropoetry is not a priority on my list of writing goals for me to do the personal equivalent of opening a doughnut bakery & French toast café.
- Would you really want to get doughnuts from JYP’s Dull Doughnut Bakeshop? Or JYP’s Reluctant Avocado Farm? (Do avocados even grow on farms?) Does the world really need more sad doughnuts and avocados? I really don’t like these products, just as I don’t like micropoetry, and it’ll show in the end product.
I read and write poetry for satisfaction. I find micropoetry deeply unsatisfying and very much lacking in the richness, content, and flavor that makes poetry poetry. If you love it, feel free to ignore me, just as you would ignore any of my other unpopular opinions on food, no matter how passionately I hold them (and I hold them very passionately). If you didn’t read this post because you got distracted licking all the chocolate dessert photos on your screen, I won’t judge.