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Complete Minimal Poems by Aram Saroyan

With carmine endpapers, a heavy paperstock, a glossy cream cover and a properly austere design, Ugly Duckling offers an elegant volume that’s pleasing to hold and that rhymes wonderfully with Saroyan’s verse. This is important, because while reading Saroyan you need to remember that you have something in your hands. At a little under four hours, my reading was probably among the longer this volume (277 pps) will have—about a minute per poem per page.

If you don’t know Saroyan, let me quote a few poems. There’s this one:




And these four:





And this one:


It’ll hit you you in July.

These, along with an 8 x 11 grid of periods (“Boxing Match”) or a qwerty keyboard reproduced in both cases (“The Collected Works”), are what Saroyan is famous for. And it’s probably why UDP’s “Lost Literature Series” had to intervene and bring these poems back into print—Saroyan’s books never had to leave the bookstore to be read.

Complete Minimal Poems, then, offers an importantly broad perspective on these famously small poems. The distances between the “man [who] stands / on his head” in the first poem of the book and “Gailyn…doing the dishes” in the last are traveled in exquisitely minimal increments—microtonal variations between man and woman, husband and wife, abstract and particular, the eight typed lines of the first poem and the single line of intimate script in the last.

Saroyan briefly stopped writing after publication of these poems, feeling they didn’t satisfy late-60s political concerns. Indeed, his poetry (unlike much from the era) is about very little: sound (listen to the [y] change in “sky / every / day”); recognition (the “typo” poems); re-reading (“JULY”). The poems are prickly, don’t encourage reverie or epiphany, and are often impossible to say or paraphrase. Thus characterized, Saroyan both anticipates innovations in later American poetries, and (despite his misgivings) is yet a radically political poet. His poems claim that experience (contra war as media circus—run, won, and lost by statistics) isn’t a list of things that happened, but a series of changes we undergo.

Such changes are minimal, but not minor, playing across the smallest yet most important difference in human experience: the first book collected here is Aram Saroyan; the last, simply The Rest. We’re reminded (hence the necessity of this volume) that, moment to moment, a whole world intervenes.