by CeCe Ramey
This is my favorite poem and if you hang in there and read, I’ll explain everything.
An Intro and Recollection of My Personal History with Poetry
My current relationship with poetry is quite distant. I only briefly run into poetry when others mention it in their work. I admire it from afar.
Perhaps the first time my ears heard a poem was when my parents taught me the “Itsy Bitsy Spider” or maybe it was my father’s voice calling out as he closed my bedroom door close “Sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite!” The first time my eyes saw a poem in physical form was in the children’s books with gorgeous colors and shapes I would spend hours delving into such as the work of Dr Seuss.
In grade school I remember reading poems that rhymed with lines and stanzas. The simple ABAB and ABBA later lead to understanding and memorizing the complex Shakespearean Sonnet rhyme scheme. All this knowledge of the kinds and rules of rhyming just to have my mind blown upon discovering the Haiku, a poem that needs no rhyme at all… But then..
What is a Poem?
Here are a few definitions that you may piece together to help form the path of an answer:
Poetry (ancient Greek: ποιεω (poieo) = I create) is an art form in which human language is used for its aesthetic qualities in addition to, or instead of, its notional and semantic content. - poetry.org
Poetry can be differentiated most of the time from prose, which is language meant to convey meaning in a more expansive and less condensed way, frequently using more complete logical or narrative structures than poetry does. This does not necessarily imply that poetry is illogical, but rather that poetry is often created from the need to escape the logical, as well as expressing feelings and other expressions in a tight, condensed manner. - poetry.org
It is a literary art that takes elements of language, such as aesthetic and rhymics, to mean more than it normally would. A poem doesn’t need to rhyme or contain multiple words.
A poem helps the mind play with its well-trod patterns of thought, and can even help reroute those patterns by making us see the familiar anew. - Mark Yakich
Poetry is an imaginative awareness of experience expressed through meaning, sound, and rhythmic language choices so as to evoke an emotional response. Poetry is an ancient form that has gone through numerous and drastic reinvention over time. The very nature of poetry as an authentic and individual mode of expression makes it nearly impossible to define. - Mark Flanagan
Although poetry is hard to define, I find we can rely on what we like and don’t like about poems to help in understanding. We don’t like cheesy poems that follow tropes or lead us exactly were we think they will lead. We enjoy poetry we can read again and again, each time taking in a new rhyme, a new detail, a new emotion, a new memory recalled or even created.
This is my favorite poem by Aram Saroyan. It’s made in a thick slab serif typeface. Like the typefaces used in old typewriters and movie scripts. It looks stretched towards the sky.
It’s called the world’s shortest poem by the Guinness Book of Records. It’s “a closeup of an alphabet being born” – Bob Grumman. Maybe it’s a cell in the process of dividing, ‘m’ and the ‘n’, not quit separated. Some see it as a pun on “I am”, implying the formation of consciousness.
When I first read it, I hear the “mm” I make when I’m thinking. The “mm” I make before I decide on what to do next. The “mm” I make as the last sound before I fall asleep.
Is it a m+n? Or a m+n? Three n’s? Is it a letter at all? The puzzle of it makes me think about our language. The history and evolution of the alphabet. The idea that words are a code that we have developed to describe the world to one another. That the code which our communication relies on is imperfect and thin. The longer I look at it, the less it feels like language.
I look at it again and I see an animal. I see an organism moving it’s long lanky limbs and a head.
When I stare at it, it becomes form alone. It reminds me of Roman aqueducts moving water along. My eyes love to stay on the boundary between the slab serif and the vertical columns. Despite it’s small size on my screen, I feel as though I can walk under it.
This is why it’s my favorite poem. Every time I read it, I see something new. I take my knowledge of the world to question it and it in return questions my knowledge of the world.