Some of the finest poems are short. Whether it's Edward Lear's limericks Or the fragments of Sappho, brevity is very often the soul of a poet's wit: what would be obvious and mundane expressed in lengthy prose, or prolix doggerel, becomes amusing or moving when forcibly compressed into five or seven--or three or two--lines of poetry.
No stranger to the pithy himself, poet Simon Armitage has collected 101 of literature's best "very short poems" in this anthology. His criterion of shortness (as he explains in a witty introduction) is that no poem should be more than 13 lines long. This deliberately excludes the 14-line sonnet, but manages to include some famous nearly-sonnets: such as Gerard Manley Hopkins's Pied Beauty("Glory be to God for dappled things"). It's towards the end of the book, where the poems dwindle in size (they are arranged so that the longer precede the shorter), that Armitage's selection comes truly into its own. Some of the poems are so tiny they are quotable in their entirety, Gavin Ewart's "Penal", for instance: "The clanking and wanking of Her Majesty's Prison", or Edwin Morgan's Siesta of a Hungarian Snake,"s sz sz SZ sz SZ sz ZS zs Zs zs zs z." Finally, right at the end, comes a laugh-out-loud piece that manages to remain a poem while consisting of no lines whatsoever. --Sean Thomas
About the Author
Simon Armitage was born in West Yorkshire and is Professor of Poetry at the University of Sheffield. A recipient of numerous prizes and awards, he has published ten collections of poetry, including Selected Poems
(2001), Seeing Stars
(2010) and his acclaimed translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
(2007). A broadcaster and presenter, he also writes extensively for television and radio, is the author of two novels, the bestselling memoir All Points North
(1998) and Walking Home
(2012), his poetic journey along the Pennine Way. In 2010 he received the CBE for services to poetry.