A Poem by Any Other Name: Poems Titled "Poem"

Year

2011
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We
reckon on a simple
agreement
.
             —from "A Poem" by Robert Creeley

It is very simple to title a poem, "Poem." Hypothetically, no other label could be less specific. A poem called "Poem" shows its reader that there is a poet at work—and also that there is a reader. It points to nothing in particular, and to itself at the same time.

"Poem"s are inherently postmodern, and in their author's seeming nonchalance about their composition—it's just another poem, after all—these works keep a low profile, on purpose.

As in Elizabeth Bishop's "Poem" about an old family member's painting, the minor relic remains: "Useless and free...handed along collaterally to owners / who looked at it sometimes, or didn't bother to." And yet this is what embodies her lines:

—the little that we get for free,
the little of our earthly trust. Not much.

A notorious practitioner of this, Frank O'Hara, wrote 56 poems titled "Poem" (including "Poem [I will always love you]," "Poem [I live above a dyke bar and I'm happy.]," "Poem [Dee Dum, dee dum, dum dum, dee da]," the list goes on...). Despite their variety, each of these are infected with a casual air—dashed off at work, during lunch, at a party.

As in O'Hara's "Poem [Light   clarity   avocado salad in the morning], the poem titled "poem" can include anything, "clarity" as well as "avocado salad." Other writers, like William Carlos Williams, have taken advantage of the freedoms associated with such a broad title to write strange works, like a list of American heroes:

"Daniel Boone, the father of Kentucky. Col. W. Crawford, the martyr to Indian revenge. Simon Gerty, the White Savage. Molly Finney, the beautiful Canadian Captive..."

—and call it "Poem."

In many ways, "Poem"s can also function as a sort of ars poetica. Michael McClure writes in "Poem": "There is joy in thought, / The size of the word / Is its own flight from crabbedness." Louise Glück takes the opportunity to mark a moment of daily life as a poem in itself—"It is a form / of suffering: then always the transparent page raised to the window." As Homero Aridjis writes in "El Poema":

The man makes his poem
from whatever he can grasp

That which escapes
will belong to future men
A "Poem" is inherently humble, which is why it cannot be the greatest work of a poet's career. It remains basically unmarked. But with a poet like Frank O'Hara, he breaks the rule. His "Poem [Lana Turner has collapsed!]" stands out as one of the most "casual" great poems of the 20th century. As John Ashbery writes in his introduction to the Collected Poems:
"Frank O'Hara's concept of the poem as the chronicle of the creative act that produces it was strengthened by his intimate experience of Pollock's, Kline's, and de Kooning's...[It is] anything but literary. It is part of a modern tradition which is anti-literary and anti-artistic."
The New York School Poets have certainly made their mark on the form as an extemporaneous mode, from Alice Notley's "Poem"s to those by Ted Berrigan, Bernadettte Mayer, James Schuyler, John Ashbery, and many more. Notley asks, in her "Poem":
And who will know the desolation of St. Mark's
   Place
With Alice Notley's name forgotten and
This night never having been?
And Rachel Zucker responds with "Poem [The other day Matt Rohrer said]," while updating the form to feature her own New York poet-friends, as O'Hara did so frequently. Rohrer writes in his own "Poem":
I have been practicing
a new way to say hello and it is fantastic.
And so, the tradition lives on.

Take this opportunity to browse these "Poem"s, including work by Charles Bernstein, Frank O'Hara, Susan Wheeler, Rachel Zucker, and many more.


Poems titled "Poem":

El Poema / The Poem by Homero Aridjis, translated by Eliot Weinberger
The poem spins over the head of a man...
Poem by John Ashbery
While we were walking under the top...
Poem by Charles Bernstein
here. Forget. / There are simply tones / cloudy, breezy / birds & so on...
Poem by Elizabeth Bishop
bout the size of an old-style dollar bill...
Poem by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Alastair Reid
You were asleep. I wake you...
Poem by Robert Creeley
If the water forms / the forms of the weeds, there—...
Poem by Louise Glück
In the early evening, a now, as man is bending...
Poem (To be read with Philip Glass's String Quartet No. 5) by Matthea Harvey
Inside the bell jar of the glass factory, / the girls...
The Poem by Daniel Hoffman
Arriving at last // It has stumbled across the harsh / Stones...
Poem by Donald Justice
This poem is not addressed to you...
Poem by Bernadette Mayer
I am beginning to alter...
Poem by Bernadette Mayer
song birds take a bath in our elephant pool...
Poem by Michael McClure
I wanted to turn to electricity—I // needed / a catalyst...
Poem by Michael McClure
Linked part to part, toe to knee, eye to thumb...
The Prose Poem by Campbell McGrath
On the map it is precise and rectilinear as a chessboard...
Poem by Thomas McGrath
I don't belong in this century—who does?...
Poem by Alice Notley
St. Mark's Place caught at night in hot summer...
Poem by Alice Notley
You hear that heroic big land music?...
Poem by Alice Notley
Why do I want to tell it / it was the afternoon of November...
Poem by Frank O'Hara
Lana Turner Has Collapsed!...
Proem by Octavio Paz
translated by Eliot Weinberger
At times poetry is the vertigo of bodies...
Poem by Matthew Rohrer
You called, you're on the train, on Sunday...
Poem by Muriel Rukeyeser
I lived in the first century of world wars...
Poem by James Schuyler
The day gets slowly started...
Poem by Delmore Schwartz
Faithful to your commands, o consciousness...
Poem by Charles Simic
Every morning I forget how it is...
Poem 1 by Edmund Spenser
Ye learned sisters which have oftentimes...
Poem by Frank Stanford
When the rain hits the snake in the head...
Poems by Rabindrath Tagore
Thou hast made me known to friends whom I knew not...
"Poem" by Dylan Thomas
Your breath was shed / Invisible to make...
Poem by Charles Tomlinson
The muscles which move the eyeballs...
Poem by Susan Wheeler
Green is the false nettle / and green is its bloom...
Poem by William Carlos Williams
As the cat / climbed over / the top of / the jamcloset...
Poem by William Carlos Williams
Daniel Boone, the father of Kentucky. Col. W. Crawford, the martyr to Indian revenge...
Poem by William Carlos Williams
on getting a card / long delayed / from a poet whom I love...
Poem by Rachel Zucker
The other day Matt Rohrer said...