Since the first Guinness Book Of World Records hit bookstores in the early 1960s, readers have been fascinated by rare and amazing feats, the latest, greatest accomplishments that break all previous records. Not to be outdone is the longest and shortest of those world record lists.
|The smallest poem in the world does not need a magnifying glass to entertain you.|
By their own nature, literary feats are perhaps the rarest of all. Other than the staggering numbers associated with the lists for the world "best-sellers," the only "feat" in literary circles would be that of the longest and shortest works ever written.
For many years the clever little light verse poem "Fleas" was thought to be the shortest poem in the English language. Because of its perky rhyme and humorous, irreverent biblical allusion, the poem is easily remembered and often quoted. It is the perfect trivia question for cocktail party banter.
The debate as to who was the original author of that poem continues today with most scholars giving credit to Paul Engle, Ogden Nash or Shel Silverstein.
"Fleas" is a very clever couplet, but it is not the shortest poem in the English language. It has two words too many.
For the record, the shortest poem in the English language contains only one word and begs probably the most important, single, universal question ever posed to mankind.
The poem contains one word in the title ("I") and one in the actual body of the poem. It is a poem written by popular kids poet and monthly IN contributor Charles Ghigna, affectionately known to children everywhere as Father Goose.
Though primarily known as a children's poet with more than 30 books of poetry to his credit, Ghigna is also a serious poet for adults whose poems have appeared in a wide-range of books, newspapers, anthologies and magazines such as The New Yorker, Harper's and The New York Times.
For your reading pleasure and information the poem, which can now be used to truly stump those cocktail party trivia pursuit debaters, is ...
Along with its title, the poem creates a haunting, understated little couplet that continues to beg the most poignant, timeless, rhetorical question of our existence. The poem "I" by Ghigna is truly the shortest poem in the world, the content being a topic of debate and discussion since humankind became self-aware.
It is only fitting that its meaning is the one that the rest of the world's serious poets ponder with each new poem that they write.
Christopher Teague is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence and a haunter of old bookstores. He is also a freelance writer living in a hovel overlooking Central Park. He is currently at work on his third unpublished novel, a series of prose poems about the tempestuous and often torrid relationship between Sara Teasdale and Vachel Lindsay. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org