Small & Neat is no Mean Feat (Brevity v’s Verbosity)

I can thank Mrs Jarman, one of my primary school teachers for introducing me to poetry. She was a real rarity in my childhood – in so far as she was a ‘good’ teacher. Most of the other teachers I endured during my education were hopeless and according to my school reports, they felt the same about me as a pupil.  Mrs Jarman however, was a wonderful teacher and one who exuded passion for the written word. Her readings of short stories and poetry would grip my attention like a vice. I particularly enjoyed it when she read us ‘light verse’, some of which I can still remember word for word. Probably because most of the poems she read were brief, like the classic:

Lines on the Antiquity of Microbes
Had ’em

This poem is often quoted as being the world’s shortest and there is some controversy as to who wrote it, with different sources attributing it to several different poets, including the ubiquitous ANON.  I’m pretty sure that the book my teacher was reading attributed the poem to Ogden Nash and it had a different title – “Fleas”. I’ve since been convinced that the poems author is most likely Strickland Gillilan (1869-1954).

Whatever it’s true title and whoever the author was, it inspired me, at the tender age of 8 or 9 to write a very short piece of my own – here it is in full:


I was very proud of that poem, even though I was too embarrassed and lacking in confidence to share it with anyone.  I thrilled at the prospect that I’d managed to write the world’s shortest poem. Afterall, excluding the title, it has only two words of one syllable each, whereas what I’d been told was the shortest poem in the world consisted of three words and a whopping total of four syllables. On that basis I should be in the Guinness Book of World Records…

Ever since I’ve had a preference for poems that are brief, compact or succinct – like the clerihew and much maligned limerick. I feel that it sometimes takes a great deal of skill to say what needs to be said in a single verse, stanza or couplet.  I’ve nothing against such epics as Coleridge’s “The Ancient Mariner“, but sometimes all you need and want is a snack not a banquet.


About Coach D

Running Coach and experienced distance runner.
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One Response to Small & Neat is no Mean Feat (Brevity v’s Verbosity)

  1. Pingback: A trip down memory lane with – Ronnie Barker | T A P P: Rhyme – With Good Reason

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