Book Review: Complete Minimal Poems by Aram Saroyan

Complete Minimal Poems by Aram Saroyan

Ugly Duckling Presse, 2007

Review by Shekinah Kifer 

In today’s publishing world, self-publishing has become the answer many authors turn to in response to the difficulties of traditional publishing. Amazon has become a powerhouse for this format but there are other companies and organizations that also offer this alternative for authors. One such place is Ugly Duckling Presse. A nonprofit publisher created in the 1990s, Ugly Duckling Presse is a small press staffed by mostly volunteers that has produced over 200 titles. Their focus is on new and international authors, or works by authors that seem to have been forgotten. Their publications include books, broadsides, chapbooks, artist’s books, and periodicals.

One such publication is the anthology of Aram Saroyan’s minimalist poems. Aram Saroyan is an Armenian-American writer who has enjoyed success with many of his works but was originally known for his minimalist poems from the 1960s. This book, published in 2007, revitalized these poems and made it possible for a new generation of readers to discover and enjoy them. What makes this anthology interesting are the choices that were made to keep the focus on the poetry itself and the message that each tries to convey. From the start, readers are subtly encouraged to read each section as a whole rather than starting in a random part of the book and reading from there. This is done with the table of contents showing only the individual collections instead of listing every poem in the book. This shows that the poems are purposely grouped together and are intended to be read together as well.

The most appealing design element is how the poems appear on the page. As they are minimalist poems, the text contained within each poem is extremely limited. However, instead of trying to group a bunch of poems onto a single page, each poem, whether it is just one line or even just one word, is centered on a page of its own. This leads to a large amount of white space on each page. Yet this great amount of blankness surrounding Saroyan’s words heightens the significance of them. The reader’s eyes are immediately drawn to look directly at them and each poem can stand on its own rather than having to compete for attention. Be that as it may, this aspect of blankness can also be a strain after a while. As previously mentioned, each poem resides on its own page, which makes for a lot of pages to read through. Having such short poems would seem to make for a quick and easy read. But having the eye confronted with so much stark white space becomes exerting. Readers will find it helpful to take short breaks from their reading, which will also help in digesting the potential meaning of the poems that they have just encountered.

With the current resurgence in popularity of Aram Saroyan’s minimalist poems, this anthology of those poems is a wonderful choice for anyone looking to explore and experience this fascinating set of poetry.

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