What Are Minimalist Poems?

Minimalist poetry refers to a poetry type or movement that doesn't have any clear originator and is only loosely defined. Minimalist poetry was influenced by concrete poetry, Japanese haiku, and Black Mountain poetry, among others. Although this movement is not as clearly defined as some poetry movements, it does possess some specific characteristics that make it unique.

Lack of Narrative

Minimalist poetry does not rely on story or narrative; it is as concise as possible and seeks to convey meaning while eliminating any unnecessary words. Minimalist poems do not seek to set scenes, introduce characters or provide descriptions of specific actions or events.

Focus on Words

A minimalist poem is focused specifically on words or even one word. Poets such as Aram Saroyan and Richard Kostelanetz wrote the first one-word poems of the minimalist movement in the 1960s. Aram Saroyan's poem "lighght," consisting of only this one word, is one of the most famous examples of one-word minimalist poetry.


Minimalist poets provide variation and visual interest in their poems by playing with font, spaces between letters and size of letters. A famous example of this is Richard Kostelanetz's sequence "Genesis," in which each word represents one day of creation and is characterized by a different font type, color and text arrangement.


Much like concrete poetry, minimalist poetry is about visual representation. Because one- or two-word poems don't rely simply on meaning for effect, the shape and placement of those words on the page can make a significant impact. Karl Young's poems provide an excellent example of how important shape is for minimalist poetry.

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