Take the 2-minute tour ×
Writers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for authors, editors, reviewers, professional writers, and aspiring writers. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I am on a small journey to help me understand what the definition of a poem is to different people, what poems mean to them.

This made me wonder, some poems are longer than others, so:

How short can a poem be until it can no longer be a poem?

share|improve this question
Also see: worldsshortestpoem.com (Adam Had'em!) –  Pravesh Parekh Mar 25 at 20:28
Another contender for the spot: poetry.rapgenius.com/… (Me? Whee!) –  Pravesh Parekh Mar 25 at 20:29
There is another: by Joost van den Vondel reads: U NU! (translated as You Now!) –  Pravesh Parekh Mar 25 at 20:32
However, I think what's answer best suits you. The claims are debatable (at least some of the above quoted). –  Pravesh Parekh Mar 25 at 20:33

6 Answers 6

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The shortest poems are




by Aram Saroyan.

share|improve this answer
Was just about to type the same answer! –  Pravesh Parekh Mar 25 at 20:21
Also interesting is the poem "Fleas" which reads: "Adam <linebreak> Had'em" –  Pravesh Parekh Mar 25 at 20:22
is that second one just ......Empty? –  hello_there_andy Mar 25 at 20:22
@hello_there_andy No. It reads "m". "a one-letter poem comprising a four-legged version of the letter "m"" -Wikipedia –  Pravesh Parekh Mar 25 at 20:23
Yes, it is a poem. It is a "minimalistic" poem. "Saroyan's four-legged "m" has been cited in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's shortest poem. Admirer Bob Grumman has written that the poem plays on formation of an alphabet, as if 'm' and 'n' are in the process of separating. It can also be understood as a pun on "I am", implying the formation of consciousness itself." - Wikipedia –  Pravesh Parekh Mar 25 at 20:27

Unlike a work of prose, which has a generally accepted predefined length (be it a short story, novella, novel, etc.) poetry is not governed by such precepts. Poetry is akin to art. A white canvas with a single stroke of paint on it can be a painting, if that is the intention of its creator. A poem can be any number of words, or just one, or even one letter, if that is the intent of its author. Public acceptance of such a work as a poem, however, is another matter entirely. Nearly 100 years ago, Marcel Duchamp submitted a urinal labelled "R.Mutt" to an art exhibition, and people have been arguing "Is it art?" ever since.


share|improve this answer
Beautiful @Stephen-Ross –  hello_there_andy Mar 27 at 12:50

Since asking the question, I stumbled across another single-letter poem.


I was skeptical about accepting such poems as true poems, but this is a rather neat one I have to say:

enter image description here


The letter i with the author's own unique thumbprint to complete it. The thumbprint is the most meaningful symbol that can express the meaning of the object it labels - more so than a name (names rarely are unique, at least in English).

share|improve this answer
I do not like minimalism so much because it often feels like laziness by the author. However, in this case I think that is a brilliant piece of art. –  SaberWriter Oct 31 at 12:04

Ah the eternal question in all art forms. What is music? So John Cage created 4'33" What is dance? So someone I forget who, possibly Merce Cunningham, stepped on stage and didn't move, and then left. What is a painting? So many a painter put a blank canvas on the wall. What is an artist name? The artist formerly known as Prince.

share|improve this answer
This is interesting from a philosophical standpoint but doesn't address the question. If you continue this train of thought, what is a poem? What is the smallest unit of anything which can still be labeled poetry? –  Lauren Ipsum Nov 2 at 17:43

I know.

So go.

Doesn't that qualify? It rhymes, keeps a meter, and "says" more than it says. That's pretty much my definition of poetry. Not saying it's any good, though. Even more minimal:



(Wow, that's soooo deep. The minimalism powerfully evokes the impoverishment of social interactions in a technological society, especially with regard to oppressed minority groups.)

share|improve this answer
Not the shortest but +1 for expanding the discussion, and nice explanation :) –  hello_there_andy Mar 25 at 20:37
BTW, those are my original poems, copyright 2014. So from now on, anytime two people say Hi/Bye, they must pay me a royalty. (Actually, even just Hi or Bye would be 50% of my poem, which exceeds fair use.) Email me for terms. –  dmm Mar 26 at 4:05

Here's the dictionary.com definition of poem:

a composition in verse, especially one that is characterized by a highly developed artistic form and by the use of heightened language and rhythm to express an intensely imaginative interpretation of the subject.

The problem, which everyone is indicating with their answers is the portion that states:

highly developed artistic form

That's so open to interpretation that poem is hardly defined any more. Instead of being a specific form it seems to be defined only by consensus. The difficulty with consensus is that if you are not on the inside then your work simply will not be considered.

I think the definition helps to put some boundaries on what a poem might be.

Particularly this part of the definition shows you what to aim for:

use of heightened language and rhythm to express an intensely imaginative interpretation of the subject

With that, I do not know how a single letter or word could really achieve that.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.