Accomplishments and Records

What is the Shortest Poem?

There is some debate about which poetic work has the distinction of being the shortest poem on record. Take a look at the two leading contenders. Fortunately, it won’t take you very long to read them both and decide for yourself.

Strickland Gillian is credited for writing “Lines on the Antiquity of Microbes.” The poem is sometimes known simply as “Fleas.” It was written in the early years of the twentieth century. The entire also known simply as Fleas, is a couplet commonly cited as the shortest poem ever written, composed by American poet Strickland Gillilan in the early 20th century.

The poem, in its entirety, reads:

Had ’em.

As short as that poem is, there is another that is even shorter. It is a one-letter poem by Aram Saroyan consisting of a four-legged version of the letter “m.” This is it:


How is this poem supposed to be read? Bob Grumman calls it “a closeup of an alphabet being born.” It may be an amalgamation of  “m” and “n.” It may also be a pun on “I am,” implying the formation of consciousness itself. He says the poem “snaps us visually into the center of an alphabet just starting to form, between its m and n. And it brings to mind the way a doubled u becomes a w. The poem also comes across as a pun for the word, “am,” to suggest some kind of superior, or perhaps gross, state of being–an “am” times one-and-a-half.”

The Saroyan composition’s claim to being the shortest poem is not without controversy. In the first place, some argue that it is more properly belongs in the visual art category, rather than in poetry.

Several sources claim that Guinness World Records has officially declared the Saroyan piece to be the world’s shortest poem. We at Commonplace Fun Facts have been unable to independently verify this through Guinness. All sourced online references to this factoid point to Kanwar Dinesh Singh, New Explorations In Indian English Poetry, Sarup & Sons, 2004, pp.92-4 as the authority for the Guinness connection. If there is anyone out there who can actually point us to something by Guinness World Records on this matter, we would be grateful.

Read more fun facts about poetry.

Read about more world records.

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