Monday, August 22, 2011

Maximally minimalist?

talking about everything but

Are those 4 words enough to be the poem in themselves? Not necessarily a haiku, because it lacks any close observation of something outside of the self... But is it enough to be a senryu, observing a tendency of human nature? Or does the poem need another element to give the reader more context?

Part of me thinks that it's enough. Every line or image I consider adding to the poem limits the reader's interpretation, whereas this phrase by itself can contain whatever experience the reader brings to it.

Some examples of elaborations that I'm considering:

bedside lamplight --
talking about
everything but...

his birthday --
talking about
anything else

Grandma's fart --
the conversation
gets faster and louder

Those are pretty clumsy examples, but they'll serve the point. How minimal is too minimal? When is more information enriching and when is it limiting and deadening? A lot depends on the reader, of course, but we don't get to choose all of our own readers. One reader might take the first phrase and rattle off a dozen situations that it evokes in her mind, from the silly to the heartbreaking. Each time she reads it will bring a different interpretation. Another reader might be totally put off by the lack of a clear reference and not make the extra step of supplying her own details. And that's assuming you care about readers at all.

Whether going maximally minimalist or adding plenty of detail, the trick is to be aware of the balance of what is lost and what is gained with each decision.

talking about anything but

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