From Iceland — Cotery Poelumn: Pwoermds

Cotery Poelumn: Pwoermds

Published July 5, 2010

It’s a poetic mouthful—a hard-to-perform sound poem in its own right—“pwoermd”. When you Google it the machine asks if you meant “powermad” and you’re half inclined to say “yes I am, what are you gonna do about it?”
    beautyfault (Karri Kokko)
    fjshjng (Geof Huth)
    breathrough (Christopher Rizzo)
    llyllylly (mIEKAL aND & Geof Huth)
    eyeye (Aram Saroyan)
It’s the new new in poetry. The new black. Yet since poetry, like infants, needs an entire childhood and adolescence before reaching young adulthood—the mere concept is already 23 years old (whereas, per usual, the practice is as old as language itself—in fact, it’s probably how language was made). Coined in 1987 by entrepoeteur Geof Huth, “pwoermd” is a combination (obviously!) of the two four-letter words “poem” and “word”.
One of the first instances of public notoriety for pwoermds—the “obscenity trial” that made ‘em famous (with no tabloid interest since the 1800s, poetry wouldn’t have survived without its obscenity trials)—was when Aram Saroyan (son of William) typed the infamous “lighght.” Saroyan was a 22 year old fan of dada and concrete poetry and had started working on one-word poems that, instead of requiring a “reading process,” simply happened in an instant, a single moment. No subject-verb-object; no meenie, minie, moe; no ifs or buts or even abouts.
Lighght was first published in The Chicago Review in 1965 and in 1969 it was included in the second volume of The American Literary Anthology—whereupon the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) awarded it the same sum as any other poem in the book: 750 dollars. Which makes about 5,200 dollars at current value (104,000 times what I make per word). For a single poem. Consisting of a single word.
Taxpayers were incensed. The government could not afford to cut taxes but they could afford to pay beatnik weirdos exorbitant amounts of money for writing one word “and not even spelling it right”? The American right—congressmen, voters and bureaucrats—had a full-on hissy-fit, with mailbags upon mailbags of rage arriving in Washington. The NEA was made to answer on Capitol Hill, the Republican Party used the opportunity to squeeze the NEA and as late as 1981 Ronald Reagan was still citing Saroyan’s p oem as a reason for the abolition of government funding for the arts.
The shortest poem I know is Steve McCaffery’s “William Tell: A Novel”. It is simply a lowercase “i” with an extra dot over the dot. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, however, the shortest poem is one by Charles Chigna entitled “I” (uppercase)—which goes “Why?” But neither constitutes a pwoermd as they are both dependent on their titles—and are thereby a process and not an instant.
Like writing any poetry, writing pwoermds is basically easy while writing good pwoermds is somehow miraculous. To a reader of pwoermds they all seem very interesting at first, but the more you read the higher your standards become and the more it takes to surprise you, to create that prodigious instant which blows you away and leaves you “discombobulated”. Which incidentally is a “normal word”—a nwoorrmadl—and not a pwoermd. 

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