Friday, November 30, 2007



Complete Minimal Poems by Aram Saroyan
(Ugly Duckling Presse, 2007)

Like the Eternal Present: Complete Minimal Poems by Aram Saroyan

In Aram Saroyan’s conception, “the one-word poem eliminates the reading process entirely—it makes the word both instantaneous and continuous, like the eternal Present.”* The writing of one-word poems marks the beginning of Saroyan’s venture into a prolific period throughout the late 1960s and early to mid 1970s, the results of which have now been brought together in the superb and necessary, Complete Minimal Poems.

During the late sixties American poetry saw a powerful boost of inventive and playful writing and publishing by young poets primarily focused in and around New York City. Saroyan is one of the poets who during the period participated in various circles of friends publishing each other and hanging out together. As Saroyan recalls, he and fellow poet, Clark Coolidge, were “living on the same raunchy street on the Upper West Side” discussing the idea of “a poem that would leave no impression on the mind after it had been read: a poem with absolutely no image-track.” Coolidge went one direction, in Saroyan’s words, “using all sorts of words and yet avoiding any kind of accumulation of these words into meaning or image” while Saroyan delved into “the one-word poem” seeking to achieve “the word stark naked” presented “into the middle of the white expanse of the page.”

Writing one-word poems, Saroyan developed a consistent application of intense examination of the word-as-object laid bare and enlarged upon that process as he began to utilize more than one word per poem. The majority of the poems collected here huddle up on the line of “what the hell are they?” Not falling conveniently into any strict category of poetic form, they are not-so-simply Minimal Poems by Aram Saroyan. Similar to Pollack’s drip paintings, Saroyan creates work in a manner that allows for the simplistic critical error of it being called easy, or child-like.

There’s no use bothering to defend the work against such criticism. All that need be said is that Saroyan strikes the imagination of the reader and holds it through giggles and impatient sighs. If the reader is not fascinated by a page such as

whatever hope is there of convincing her different? The reader must continue on, either enjoying the benefits of existing in a world with Saroyan’s work, or not capable of acknowledging the pleasure of such company, not. There are times it is important to have the perspective which grants that opening up the imaginative minds of all readers is simply not possible. Saroyan’s work comes from just such a perspective, its fun without being dumb, thoughtfully engaging while not pushing an agenda, just the sort of enjoyable reading an active mind deserves.

Every reader of poetry needs to get a hold of this collection and spend time sitting with the work. Give it ample space to crawl around, get adjusted to its company. Feel a little excited and challenged, there’s depth to the poems that welcomes re-reading. And don’t fear, at the times when Saroyan gets beyond the parameters of the one-word poem the lingering presence of more traditional-seeming poetry peeks through.
In all the white the wall is

is so tiny a
black crawling roach—a

distance in and out of

Perhaps for certain readers the tendency of marijuana use to produce such focus of vision and contemplation comes immediately to mind, but remember that so often the effects of drugs are nothing more than reminders of an earlier innocence of perception. The return to such raw observance is the ultimate clarity to be found in this period of Saroyan’s work.

Against the tendency of abstraction, critical consideration about how letters go together to form a word, a world, is presented in such a manner to call our comfortable relations into question.

What do you make of that?


* All comments by Saroyan are taken from “Clark Coolidge and I” Stations No. 5 A Symposium on Clark Coolidge Winter, 1978 ed. by Ron Silliman available on-line:


Patrick James Dunagan lives in San Francisco and works in the library at USF. Poems and chapbooks have been published by Auguste Press, Blue Book, Chain, Pompom, and Red Ant Press among others.


EILEEN said...

Another view is offered by Eileen Tabios in GR #22 at

EILEEN said...

Another view is offered by SS Prasad in GR #23 at