Essay

You Call That Poetry?!

How seven letters managed to freak out an entire nation.
Introduction
When Aram Saroyan received $750 from the NEA for his poem "lighght," people were left scratching their heads: How could one misspelled word be considered poetry? Ian Daly explains.

On a cool autumn evening in 1965, a 22-year-old poet named Aram Saroyan typed seven letters that would amount to one of the most controversial poems in history.

Not that he knew it at the time.

It was growing late, and a waiting friend (Saroyan can’t remember his name) was getting antsy. He wanted to leave Saroyan’s little apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and head downtown to Le Metro Café where Lou Reed and The Fugs and Andy Warhol liked to hang out when they were still freaks, not superstars. But Saroyan held him off. Dead center on the sheet of paper curled in his Royal manual typewriter, he clacked out this single misspelled word:


lighght



Then they split. More than four decades after they shut the door, people are still talking about this word.

* * *


The mid-‘60s were a good time for new ideas. “In retrospect, it was sort of a Golden Age,” says Ron Padgett, a poet who spent much of that golden age in New York with Saroyan. “You could know Andy, and he’d put you in one of his movies or give you an art piece. Also, money in art wasn't the horrendous issue that it soon became.” He remembers hanging out with Saroyan at Le Metro, downing strong coffee and setting a course for how they were going to change poetry. Both were influenced by the Dadaists and the poet Robert Creeley. They’d been experimenting with “concrete” poetry, which is as much about the arrangement of words as about what they say. They were also creating minimalist poetry before such a classification existed. “There was a childlike delight in playing with words on the page,” says Padgett.

One day another of Saroyan’s friends, the poet Ted Berrigan, got a look at his latest one-word poem, eyeye, on a sheet of typewriter paper. “He said, ‘What the fuck is this?’” Saroyan recalls, “which I thought was a promising response.”

It’s also a valid question. “Lighght” is something you see rather than read. Look at “lighght” as a poem and you might not get it. Look at it as a kind of photograph, and you’ll be closer. “The difference between “lighght” and another type of poem with more words is that it doesn’t have a reading process,” says Saroyan, who lives in Los Angeles and teaches writing at the University of Southern California. His Complete Minimal Poems was published in June by Ugly Duckling Presse. “Even a five-word poem has a beginning, middle, and end. A one-word poem doesn’t. You can see it all at once. It’s instant.”

Just how precarious the whole thing is, though, might not be so immediately apparent. Take away one “gh” and it would pass straight through you—add another, and its starkness is lost. Repeating the “t” in the middle would be like dropping a rock in the ancient-lake stillness laid out by those four silent consonants. What you’re left with is more sensation than thought. The poem doesn’t describe luminosity—the poem is luminosity. That way of looking at language became Saroyan’s playing field for years. “I got intrigued by the look of individual words,” he says. “The word ‘guarantee,’ for instance, looks to me a bit like a South American insect.”

What’s so controversial about that, you may ask? Nothing, in fact. It wasn’t until the U.S. government got involved that Saroyan found himself the unwitting center of a hurricane that still hasn’t spun itself out.

A year after “lighght” appeared in The Chicago Review, George Plimpton decided to include it in the second volume of The American Literary Anthology, which he was editing for the National Endowment for the Arts, then barely five years old. Under the NEA’s newly established Literature Program, every author featured in the anthology received a cash award. Plimpton picked Saroyan’s “lighght,” so the NEA cut him a check for $750—the same as all the other authors in the anthology. The Review kept $250, and Saroyan kept the rest. All of which seems reasonable enough—that is, unless you judge the poem’s worth on a strictly cost-per-word basis—which is exactly what Congress did.

When Representative William Scherle, a Republican from Iowa, caught wind of the one-word poem, he launched a national campaign against the indefensible wastefulness of the newly established NEA, and urged the removal of its chairperson, Nancy Hanks. Jesse Helms had his hackles raised, too. Pretty soon, Michael Straight, deputy chairperson of the Endowment at the time, “was personally called to the offices of 46 members of Congress to explain the matter,” according to NEA documents. Mailbags of letters from fuming taxpayers clogged the agency’s boxes, most of them variations on a theme: We can’t afford to lower taxes but we can pay some beatnik weirdo $500 to write one word…and not even spell it right?!

“If my kid came home from school spelling like that,” one congressman said, according to the now-defunct arts and literature quarterly Sabine. “I would have stood him in the corner with a dunce cap.” Plimpton, for his part, wasn’t about to step out of the fray. After Scherle denounced the poem in the House of Representatives, Plimpton traveled to Iowa to campaign against him. Scherle ultimately lost his re-election bid in 1974. And when Plimpton was asked by a congressman to explain Saroyan’s poem. According to Sabine, he responded, “You are from the Midwest. You are culturally deprived, so you would not understand it anyway.”

“Lighght,” it turns out, was more than just a groundbreaking poem. It was the perfect metaphor for the often hairy business of mixing government with art—an antagonism that would be revisited when the Endowment later financed the likes of Robert Clark Young, Andres Serrano, Robert Mapplethorpe, and the artists Karen Finley, Tim Miller, John Fleck, and Holly Hughes, who became known as the NEA Four. While Saroyan was hardly the lightning rod these later artists became, “lighght” did become a pet anecdote for a cadre of conservatives who saw federal funding of the arts as just a few notches shy of setting tax-payers’ money on fire.

“‘Lighght’ provided a small amount of ammunition for attacking the NEA, but [the NEA’s opponents] used it all up,” says Padgett. “They never seem to pick on fiction. I guess they don't have time to read it.”

All of this was a little hard to take seriously, Saroyan says now, at a time when 500 Americans a week were dying in Vietnam, and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy had recently been assassinated. However strongly the “lighght” controversy reverberated in the halls of Congress, it wasn’t exactly sending shivers down the poetry world’s collective spine. “The poets I knew didn't give a damn,” says Padgett. “We found the brouhaha amusing. And I think Aram did too. Imagine: we're wreaking havoc in Southeast Asia, our whole country's out of its head, and we're getting worked up about a misplaced consonant?”

In fact, angry politicos probably imbued Saroyan’s poem with more longevity than the art world ever could have. A quarter century after Saroyan first typed those seven letters—long after the sun had set on the Summer of Love and the poet had abandoned his minimalist experimentation to try his hand at prose—Ronald Reagan was still making pejorative allusions to “lighght.” That sparked Saroyan to write about the whole affair for Mother Jones in 1981, in a piece he called “The Most Expensive Word in History.”

But there is something uniquely enduring about “lighght”—a peculiar energy that goes beyond the realm of controversy or the resurrection of poetic taxonomies. That single word still manages to make people think—even Saroyan. Recently, he figured he’d make the poem into a Christmas card to send around to some friends—just the word, white on white, centered, and embossed into heavy card stock. “What I realized was that if you emboss it, you don’t need the extra ‘gh,’” he says. “So apparently the crux of the poem is to try and make the ineffable, which is light—which we only know about because it illuminates something else—into a thing. An extra ‘gh’ does it. Embossing it does it. Engraving it in stone, and letting the light play off the actual word, does it, too. It’s sculptural on that level.”

In Complete Minimal Poems, “lighght” is restored to its place at the center of a single white page. Minimalist poetry, Saroyan says, might be having another moment. But lighght isn’t the only word in there that should get people thinking again. “I realized recently that my poem “lobstee” was written in Stockholm, where the billboards in Swedish had more diphthongs, and I liked that look,” says Saroyan. “The double ‘aa’ in ‘aaple’ looked good to me. I love Gertrude Stein's line about ‘A rose is a rose is a rose.’ She said that was the first time the rose has been really red in English literature in the past two centuries.”
Originally Published: August 25th, 2007

Ian Daly lives in New York City and is senior writer for Details magazine. His work has also appeared in Esquire and the New York Times.

Related Content
  1. August 24, 2007
     najii elllll

    The word "word" loooks very much like lighght to me. I understand the ineffable mood. This reminds me of African literature when emphasis on a particular thing is increased simply by saying it twice. I suppose the emphasis can would triple if the words were combined somehow.


    I see a poem in "word", I just wouldn't expect other people to appreciate it.

  2. August 24, 2007
     James Jordan

    Now that minimalist poetry has come full circle, perhaps Saroyan will pick up his quill again and enlighghten us with more.

  3. August 25, 2007
     Tim Cantey

    I rememeber being blown away by "lighght" when

    I was a kid, just as I was by the word "Word", as

    in 'In the Beginning was the...' and "Shit", the first

    word of Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi.

    "Lighghgt" was written at the height of the Pop Art

    use of onomatopoeia and is of its time. Now it's

    just trite and no one's thought about it in years.

  4. August 28, 2007
     Steven Eric

    I love Tim Cantey! He is the powet we've been weighting for. " lighghgt " he says. It's one of the heaviest looking words I've ever seen -- a clever reversal. And to put in in the middle of his annoyingly heavy comment is perfect -- how can it be that our host has written an entire essay about this poem without thinking about it? Very clever man. He can't have thought about it, as Cantey says no one has thought about it in years. Or perhaps Cantey means "no one who matters." In which case he's even funnier. Hooray Tim Cantey! More please.

  5. August 28, 2007
     Bob Grumman

    I've just written about it in print for about the twentieth time in my FROM HAIKU TO LYRIKU, due out in a week or two. I consider it one of the ten best American poems of the twentieth century. Ergo, I can't understand why the Poetry Foundation has an essay about it.

  6. August 29, 2007
     Max Fairchild


    Ruth Sancho creates word portraits worthy of any gallery in memory.

  7. August 29, 2007
     Gurgitator

    A complete wastewstew of paper...

  8. August 29, 2007
     Chill

    Wow, Steveven, aaren't you an ass. I'll be less sarcastic/witty and a bit more straightforward - no more of you please.

    Thanks.

  9. August 29, 2007
     casper de weerd

    Reminds me of the 1954 parliamental riot about a similar issue; a prize for Jan Hanlo, creator of the immortal Oote. Although it is in Dutch, english readrs may enjoy it:

    OOTE

    Oote oote oote
    Boe
    Oote oote
    Oote oote oote boe
    Oe oe
    Oe oe oote oote oote
    A
    A a a
    Oote a a a
    Oote oe oe
    Oe oe oe
    Oe oe oe oe oe
    Oe oe oe oe oe
    Oe oe oe oe oe oe oe
    Oe oe oe etc.
    Oote oote oote
    Eh eh euh
    Euh euh etc.
    Oote oote oote boe
    etc.
    etc. etc.
    Hoe boe hoe boe
    Hoe boe hoe boe
    B boe
    Boe oe oe
    Oe oe (etc.)
    Oe oe oe oe
    etc.
    Eh eh euh euh euh
    Oo-eh oo-eh o-eh eh eh eh
    Ah ach ah ach ach ah a a
    Oh ohh ohh hh hhh (etc.)
    Hhd d d
    Hdd
    D d d d da
    D dda d dda da
    D da d da d da d da d da da
    da
    Da da demband
    Demband demband dembrand dembrandt
    Dembrandt Dembrandt Dembrandt
    Doe d doe d doe dda doe
    Da do do do da do do do
    Do do da do deu d
    Do do do deu deu doe deu deu
    Deu deu deu da dd deu
    Deu deu deu deu

    Kneu kneu kneu kneu ote kneu eur
    Kneu kneu ote kneu eur
    Kneu ote ote ote ote ote
    Ote ote oote
    Ote ote
    Boe
    Oote oote oote boe
    Oote oote boe oote oote oote boe

  10. August 29, 2007
     degustibus

    righght

  11. August 29, 2007
     NEG

    I seem to remember (having read about) Robert Duncan having something to do with the selection of this poem for NEA support, and Duncan saying something along the lines of an angel telling him to choose it.

  12. August 29, 2007
     jesse s. fourmy

    at least it's an easy one to memorize. righght?

  13. August 29, 2007
     Doodle

    Maximal fans of minimal poetry may also enjoy the 153 meaningless 6-letter words at:


    http://poeticinvention.blogspo...


    (scroll down a bit)

  14. August 29, 2007
     endwar

    I think part of the genius of "lighght" is that the repeated letters are silent. So it is different, yet the same. In certain circles (e.g. spidertangle and other visual poetry discussion forums) this poem gets described, discussed, and cited as much as John Cage's ground breaking silent musical composition "4'33"", and for the same reason: it showed a new way of looking at language. It is one of the most, if not the most effective, of Saroyan's minimal works, though there are lots of other interesting works in that book. Thanks also for providing the details on the circumstances behind how Saroyan got paid for the work -- it makes more sense that he was paid as a contributor to an anthology rather than through a standalone grant identified for that work. Of course that didn't stop the brouhaha from the yahoos. It may also be worth mentioning that the entire book "lighght" was in, _Aram Saroyan_, was read on the NBC nightly news, according to the jacket cover copy on Saroyan's next book, _Pages_. Both books were published by Random House.

  15. August 30, 2007
     Joe

    C'mon, guys and gals. Call it fun, call it mystic, call it word magic, call it thought provocation, call it whatever you like. But if you insist on calling it "poetry" language ceases to have meaning.

  16. August 31, 2007
     deRoubaix

    Joe, I am interested to learn about a definition of poetry that does not involve "word magic", "thought provocation", and potentially "fun" and "mystic[al]" qualities. Regarding these descriptions, I believe that "word magic"/the skilled use of language represents the most fundamental aspect of poetry.


    In addition, I do not understand your argument that "language ceases to have meaning" if the word "lighght" is described as poetry. You are making the argument that poetry and meaningful language are connected. This argument is valid, but if you acknowledge that the word "lighght" represents a skilled use of language/"word magic" and thus gives meaning to language, you cannot logically argue that the word does not represent poetry.

  17. September 1, 2007
     Majid Naficy

    "It takes one mad man to drop a ring in the well but it takes one hundred wise men to bring it out." ( A Persian proverb)

  18. September 3, 2007
     K. Christopher

    We are so hungry to validate our art (Not that it needs it). We now bear witness to (and praise) another futile attempt.


    Is the measure of a poem based souly on spiritual reaction? Maybe not. But good poetry leaves us aching, yearning, dazed, cold, terrified, anything, everything.


    But this typo?

  19. September 6, 2007
     Stephen Fraser

    sweet

  20. September 6, 2007
     Beth St.Clair

    I don't rate this poem. For me it is an example of a con and when poetry like this is admired and esteemed it seems to me that it devalues real poetry. Is this some kind of literary Picasso? No it is not!

  21. September 7, 2007
     Jim Finnegan

    I love 'lighght'. As a poem and as a literary provocation.


    To me the poem’s strength lies in its calling attention to the silence in the phenomenon of energy we call light and which pervades our existence. The 'gh' being silent is repeated and thus makes the new created word extensive in time and space, as light is, instantly and silently so.


    Art is not a zero-sum game. The success and admiration given this poem, or minimalist poems its kind, in no way takes away the luster of other poetry. Value is not a limited resource that needs protection. Value is created by an aggregation of taste that gathers around any art object, no matter how humble or how grand.

  22. September 8, 2007
     Tad Richards

    Much of the time, that which we may not value as art, and which may not have the lasting power that's probably the best measure of art (and "lighght" has been around for a while) can still add to the vocabulary of artists. Each is a tributary to that vast riverrun.

  23. September 8, 2007
     Neil Smith

    His bloomers were tite, white, and
    quite washed by Katrina! Let there
    be lite.

  24. September 9, 2007
     Mark Granier

    This controversy reminds me of the fuss
    generated over here when Irish poet Paul
    Muldoon awarded first prize in a poetry
    competition for children to someone who wrote
    a one-line poem titled 'The Tortoise'. 'The
    tortoise goes movey, movey', wrote the
    anonymous child. 'Movey', as I understand it, is
    not a misspelling but a neologism.

    As far as I recall, when Muldoon was quizzed
    about it he remarked that the poem had made
    him look at tortoises in a different way. That
    seems a valid enough reason to me, especially
    where poetry written by children is concerned.

  25. September 10, 2007
     Samuel

    C'mon, guys and gals. Call it fun, call it mystic, call it word magic, call it thought provocation, call it whatever you like. But if you insist on calling it "poetry" language ceases to have meaning.

    FINALLY!!! Language ceases to have meaning!

  26. September 10, 2007
     G Funk

    Paul Muldoon's poetry sometimes--maybe often--has no more meaning than "the tortoise goes movey movey." If that was the opening line of a poem, yes interesting. As the only line, well, whatever. Maybe it was the only interesting line in the contest.


    I second the statement that while linguistic games and innovation can be interesting, poetry is much deeper. A one-second sound bite does not make a John Coltraine jazz solo.


    Peace out peace frogs!

  27. September 11, 2007
     Tom Ritchford

    What definition of poetry excludes single words?

    Prose tries to convey information through sentences and paragraphs; in poetry, the individual words are more important. What could be more important than a single word?

    lighght is a fantastic poem (and I never saw it before). It's not a "game" -- it's a miniature. It has its own very distinct flavour and stillness.

  28. September 12, 2007
     Ed Kirkpatrick

    Art is a provocation of thought and discussion and as such lighght is perfect.

    I is telling that the ones to complain the loudest are those least likely to create art and thus validate it.

  29. September 12, 2007
     edgewise

    A saltine cracker is not food because it is not
    jambalaya. And yet, a little jambalaya goes a
    long way, and nibbling on saltines can bring me
    back to sick days at home with my mom when i
    was a kid, smelling soup, reading Mad magazine
    as the floorboards creeked under the rocking
    chair.....

    saltine

    jambalaya

  30. September 12, 2007
     G Funk

    The same argument that this single word is poetry is the same argument that a trash can with debris on it is art if it is in a museum. Yes it provokes thought. No it does not provoke interesting, ennobling, or deep thought--like Jack Handy did on Saturday Night Live.


    The same people who like this stuff have warped the visual art movement beyond recognition. To see this word as profound, makes me question one's depths. Robert Frost's Provide, Provide is profound; Gwendolyn Brook's We Real Cool, Robert Hayden's Frederick Douglas, and T.S. Eliot's Preludes all are profound.


    Don't get me wrong--I enjoy my Rothko postcards, but the ouvre for instance of Max Beckman or Salvadore Dali is far more significant than the perfection of a technique or maybe in this case, a mere gimmick.

  31. September 13, 2007
     poemdujour

    lighghght
    R oui dun?
    Wannanutter?

  32. September 14, 2007
     G Funk

    In addition, the hyberbole of this article borders on ridiculous. For instance, this quick idea "would amount to one of the most controversial poems in history."


    T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" in all its implications remains a much more controversial poem. That is if you think about it. Our culture today in America would be much more receptive to this "lighthth," then watching some American Idol, then hearing about more war casualty facts, then voting, then maybe eating some nachos.

  33. September 19, 2007
     jgLittle

    Strictly speaking phonetically, gh is not completely silent; it represents a sound of exhaling. So in that sense lighght "breathes." "...and God said, 'Let there be lighght'" ?

  34. September 20, 2007
     Barry Gabay

    I'll give it to my students, as it's a form with which they are unfamiliar. Some know minimal painting, and others have had me play "Nixon in China" for them. They also like flash fiction. As poetry though, I can't wait to experience their reactions. Here's mine from a miserable recent Monday afternoon department meeting.


    the meeting: them eating

  35. September 26, 2007
     Christina Davis

    Poets House invites you to attend "POETICS OF THE CONDENSERY: Elaine Equi & Aram Saroyan on Minimalist Poetry" on Thursday, October 11, 7:00pm at Poets House, 72 Spring Street, 2nd Floor, New York City. Information: Visit www.poetshouse.org or call (212) 431-7920.

  36. November 1, 2007
     sayanoa blue

    Aram Saroyan is not a poet, he's a fad.

  37. January 3, 2008
     david

    'lighght'


    man is this a great poem. forget it's 'faddyness' or it's 'minimalist poetry' aesthetic or whatever... just forget all that stuff and go back to the word/poem, and read it in the same way that you'd read any other 'poem' and you'll (hopefully) find in it exactly those things that you can find in any far-less experimental (read: narrative) poem.


    and controversy around it is also what makes this an amazing and intriguing poem. it totally nails the argument about 'what makes poetry.'


    it's not the only controversial poem, but it is one of them -- the waste land isn't the only 'controversial' poem, in the same way that there isn't only one strand (style) of poetry at any given time.


    eh, whatever. i think it's great. no need to argue. just my opinion.

  38. January 9, 2008
     Leo Burns

    Oh wow! This is pure brilliance... YAY! Thanks for putting poetry in a lab!!! YAY!


    Poetry it may be- in the way that anything can be poetry- but not Verse.


    I'd love to go to a reading of this by the way...


    This is really controversy more than poetry though... thats what intrigues us right- controversy. But in my generation: NOTHING IS SHOCKING- so just let it go already... CBGB was lame power-chording etc. Don't mistake deconstruction for destruction...

  39. March 8, 2008
     j m whelan

    Poetry is all about the concise use of language; from that perspective lighght is arguably a poem.


    Being silent, gh is transparent, i.e., transmits radiation fully and faithfully between media, hence a metaphor for efficient transmission of idea between minds.


    Still in the mind, the extra letters gh interject thought, or minimally a pause, disrupting and discouraging a literal interpretation (not unlike poetry).


    In short (sorry!), a poetics in seven letters, reminiscent of certain works of "Modernist Art".

  40. April 14, 2008
     neo

    lighght is failing, but I'll fite for your rite to capitalize ON IT.

  41. November 3, 2008
     Marty

    With a first look it appears to be an early form of ... typo!


    But then looking/reading it again, you kinda get the feeling that he was keeping his friend waiting while he tried to get something down on paper...only to be rushed....thus typing far too quickly to realise....or maybe he is a genius, way above anyone's head!!

    Marty

    ;-)

  42. November 7, 2008
     Anonymous

    o these r poems?

    i thot tht these were comments posted bi other kisd and adults

    LOL

    ummmmmmmm

    enyway hav fun riting all thse stupid poems tht nobdy reeds

  43. November 14, 2008
     German

    Are these people for real? Here's a poem for you: BULL****! People that pretent to know what they're talking about praising an idiot like Aram Saroyan for "writing" an inspirational poem like Lighght. Proof that people will go along with anything that others say just to be part of the crowd.

  44. November 21, 2008
     Tom Young

    Publish what? When I give you permission to publish my work I will say so. I will not give you permission through inuendo. Otherwise I will not wright. TY

  45. January 24, 2009
     John Scherle

    My dad was Bill Scherle, the Congressman referred to in this article. I was about 15 when this all happened and I remember it well as I spent summers in his office giving tours of the Capitol and taking in the demonstrations, protests and mass arrests of the late 60's. He did seize on this as an example of what he saw as wasteful government spending, and he certainly was a conservative, but it was really no different from any current politician finding a "real" example of outrage and parading them in front of Congress. My dad was certainly not a Neanderthal and thought that taxes should be used to tackle real human problems in this country, and from the discussion above I think that even among the "intellects" there is debate as to whether or not this effort was legit or something like Fluxus or whatever. I know that part of art is pushing the envelope and the celebrities involved used this to get publicity and provoke a fight. But face it, folks. This is more like performance art or something rather than poetry. And, if this can get by the censors, remains as a perfect example of complete bullshit that is sometimes passed off as art. Finally, my dad was the victim of Watergate fallout in 1974, which also took out like 3/4 of the GOP congressmen that year and his defeat was certainly not due to campaigning from a D-list celeb like George Plimpton. I'm a child of the 60's, but Bill Scherle was right on and this is indeed crap.

  46. March 8, 2009
     zainab

    when I say the word in my mind it sounds like gargling.

    calling this poetry is a bit of a stretch don't you think?

  47. July 11, 2009
     Tom Mott

    "calling this poetry is a bit of a stretch don't you think?"

    Not really. Aram Saroyan was a poet. He wrote this poem. It was published in a book of poetry. You likely think it's a BAD poem, or doesn't meet criteria you think all poems should have, but if you judge it purely by intent and context it's certainly a poem.

    "...it does not provoke interesting, ennobling, or deep thought."

    Clearly it hasn't provoked that in you, but it has provoked deep thought in some of the other commenters here. I've enjoyed reading what others have to say about this.

    I believe that with all art (writing, film, music, etc), we have a visceral response first, and then try to rationalize that response afterwards. And when we have no response--or a negative response--but other people have a positive response, it can be very frustrating. So I understand where some of the negative/hostile comments are coming from: you don't LIKE the poem. It doesn't do anything for you. That's perfectly reasonable, but you shouldn't jump to the conclusion that people who like the poem are shallow thinkers, sheep, or con artists. We just have different aesthetic sensibilities.

    Like one of the other commenters said, assigning value in art is not a zero-sum game.

    What I find fascinating is that Saroyan has made the word "light" do something: it flickers. When my eyes scan the word on the page/screen, I get a flickering sensation, like a passing motion of light. I think that's cool. And he's gotten me thinking about the relationship between how words look and how they sound, and the differences between reading something aloud versus reading it on the page.

  48. August 27, 2009
     Of Fail and Jenkem

    Most of the controversy over this "poem" is due to the wide praise it receives from pseudo-intellectuals/hipsters, the type who are quick to attack so-called "mainstream culture" (Hollywood, et al), despite the fact that no matter what you might think of people like Michael Bay or Dan Brown, at least they put actual EFFORT into their hack material, unlike Aram Sorayam, who is just as much if not more of a hack than those two, only difference being that while they churned out feature-length movies and novels, all he could muster up was a one-word typo, and at least Bay and Brown fans don't analyze and intellectualize their work like Saroyam's in-denial followers do. Also, the fact that this "thought provoking work of art" earned the man $500, which is more than a full time minimum wage worker makes from a whole week's worth of work, only contributes to the outrage, and rightfully so.

  49. September 11, 2009
     Judith Roche

    Robert Duncan did say that the
    repeated "gh" is the "Silent stutter in
    the Presence of the Light." He thought
    it brilliant to incorporate that sense of
    awe in the one word. If you were to
    transcribe 'light" phonetically you
    would only have the "L" sound, the
    vowel "i" sound, and the "t" consenent.
    The "gh" is silent, a leftover from a
    Middle English pronunciation. To find
    that silent sense of awe in the letters
    themselves is remarkable. Like a lot of
    things, once you've seen it, you GET
    it, but it took Aram Soroyan to Get it
    first.

  50. February 17, 2010
     J. Patrick Lewis

    The Hangman's Lament

    Neckckckckst!

  51. April 8, 2010
     Ann Cleary

    I first encountered "lighght" when a favorite TU professor, Dr. Winston Weathers, told our class in literary archetypes about it.
    He presented the poem to us with the usual details--the author's name; the $500 prize money, but also with "God" as the title!

  52. January 3, 2011
     gittl

    Fine poem. Breath with it. Wasn't there an earlier Saroyan book? I remember Richard Kolmar as co-author?

    No matter but
    interesting.

  53. February 4, 2011
     Win Corduan

    Original, pithy, minimalist, provocative,
    thought-inspiring, emotion-provoking,
    the poem is all of that. It certainly is
    art. But it is bad art, in the same
    category as a Budweiser commercial.
    Then the question is whether it's just
    plain bad art or tongue-in-cheek bad
    art, just as John Cage's music never
    totally lost its function as a parody. I
    can't help but think of "lighght" as a
    parody, and I feel sorry for all the
    members of the self-reinforcing
    intellectual community who try to find
    deeper meaning in it by calling
    something that's entertaining for its
    risibility "important." George Plimpton
    was at his best hosting Mousterpiece
    Theater on the Disney Channel, and
    that's where this poem belongs as well.

  54. February 6, 2011
     Could be wrong about this, but

    I think it's evident that the poem inspires a lot of frothing outrage, which in and of itself is a commentary, and in turn makes the poem important. Say what you will, but the offense that some take this as to their sensibilities is momentum enough to get this whole thing spinning on its axis again, wouldn't you say? Sometimes you need that dorky huckster and his friend to decorate a toilet and call it art. Lighght might seem like jibber-jabber, but it's important merely for the fact that it pushes at the parameters of what a poem can be. Stare at a light. Any light. Go look at the sun. That resonance, that light blur that catches in your eye and casts a wide net of wobble in your lens? That's lighght. It's what light does that's being described here, and in a word at that. Hence it's minimalist. Hence it's minimalist poetry. So it increases the parameters of what can be said in a poem. Otherwise, the parameters are saying anything in a poem that the status quo disagrees with, and censorship's no fun. (And there are a$$es in the world who would say Gwendolyn Brooks didn't write poetry. If this isn't poetry, it would only be a matter of time before her words were cut for not following a meter or talking about skylarks.)

  55. January 9, 2013
     Dr. Winfield Scott

    Some years ago, I was visiting friends in New York City at Christmas time. It was cold and raining, but we wanted to go the the Metropolitain Museum of Art. We walked in the rain, only to find that it was closed on Mondays. So one of them suggested that we instead go to the Guggenheim. All seven floors were featuring a tribute installation of the life's works of Robert Rauschenberg, an artist with whom I had been previously unfamiliar. All of it looked like scrap from a textiles plant to me, except the works that looked like they were intended as a joke on the art world. the most notable (and apparently most famous) piece in the exhibition was a wooden pallette, splashed with pastel paints and scattered with various items of discarded trash, upon which stood a stuffed angora goat, who wore a truck tire around his midsection, painted white.

    Later, at an italian restaraunt where we were having dinner, and where the smell of the steamed clams they'd orded as an appetizer was making me nauseus, i got into a rather fierce debate with them over whether that could even be considered art. I, frankly, had taken much greater pleasure from appreciating the Guggenheim building itself, which was created by Frank Lloyd Wright. They insisted that it was great art, and that Rauschenberg was a great artist. And then I posed a question, using as an example the style of myriad similar pieces in the exhibition: "If I leaned a painted plank against a wall, and draped from it a rectangle of muslin that was dyed half lime green, and half posie pink, would that be a great work of art? It it only worthy of being called great art because Rauschenberg did it?" My friends informed me that yes, it was art because of who created it, not because of it's intrinsic aesthetic properties. To me, this seemed absurd. However, I was at the time, beginning o run a high fever, as I had contracted strep throat after the long walk in the cold rain.

    lighght

    Perhaps it does not intrinsically lift the spirit, or convey specific exultation, but this is not required. often, the most inspiring rt is entirely in the eye of the beholder. Art is not the medium, or the creation itself, but the middle ground betwen art and it's appreciator, the nebulous inbetween where each individual's emotional reaction to the artwork is unique and undefineable. As such, art itself does not simply defy definition, it must, by it's nature remain undefineable. For me, walking up seven floors looking at Rauschenberg after Rauschenberg was puzzling tedium. Walking back down, looking at the guggenheim itself, was as much a spiritual experience as listening to Mozart. What's more worthy of being called music, Mozart's Twelve Variations on "Ah vous dirai-je, Maman," or Tom Wait's "Dragging a Dead Priest?" Art cannot be measured in degrees, nor compared in scope or scale to judge it "worthy" or "unworthy." It IS the response it provokes. And it can be noted, concerning "lighght," that seldom have seven letters ever PROVOKED such a reaction as that of the government, the author of this article, or these responses to it.

  56. February 4, 2014
     Jordyn

    People argue that "Lighght" is not a poem mostly because it defies
    traditional convention; poetry must rhyme, poetry must have stanzas,
    poetry must contain more than one word, etc. These definition are
    narrow-minded and exclusive, and disregard the fact that a single
    word, real or invented, can sound or look like poetry. When spoken,
    there are many words that could be called poetry, the way they roll off
    the tongue, the feeling they evoke when spoken. "Evanescent" comes
    to mind in particular.

    When simply looked at, "Lighght" extends two silent consonants,
    giving the viewer more room to breathe, making the word itself even
    lighter. If taken as an extra breath, it can be spoken as a slightly more
    drawn out "light".

    It may be unconventional, but in its own very unique way, "lighght" is
    poetry, and the extreme range of responses it has provoked could be
    used as validation that at the very least, it is worth talking about.

  57. February 5, 2014
     Kesi

    I still find it amazing how that one misspelled word, lighght, changed
    poetic history. Not to mention that Aram Saroyon typed the word out of
    impatience. I find the history behind the word even more interesting
    due to the fact that I can relate to misspelling a word out of impatience.
    Lighght is a one word poem you can read once or even more than once
    without missing anything, where as they say in the essay, a five word
    poem has a beginning, middle, and end. Overall lighght does not
    describe luminosity, but instead is luminosity and I personally feel that
    has a strong concept in being a poem.

  58. February 5, 2014
     Strambles

    Saroyan is like the Gordon Matta-Clark of the poetry world. He tears down
    the mental fabric within us, which are pre-disposed to accepting traditions,
    and flips that script on us so we be all like "whaaaaaa?" Dude's gnarly
    about them poetries and writings. Reading his poems is like watching the
    highlights from Tomas Hertl's four goal game against the NY Rangers back
    in October of 2013. #mindblown

  59. February 6, 2014
     Olivia

    I'm confused. Confused in a positive way and a negative way. I want to
    know how to pronounce lighght and I also don't really want to ever
    know. I wonder if by merely adding a few letters to a word is really
    making it something that transcends linguistics, or if it was just made to
    bewilder people. And in that case, maybe Saroyan is laughing at the fact
    that we have fallen for this puzzle.

  60. February 6, 2014
     raz

    It's fascinating that so many are agents the idea of poetry as written art.
    People describe beautiful things as poetry but but can't fit "lighght" into
    poetry

  61. February 6, 2014
     kchick

    Poetry is playing with language. Whether that means creating a traditional poem that rhymes, something that doesn't rhyme, writing a list, transcribing your phone notes, or compiling all your drunk texts into one document. As long as you're playing with language and rhythm, then its poetry.

    The poem 'lighght' is a poem. Lighght plays with language in that the viewer gets a mental image from it, even though 'lighght' isn't a real word. And even though 'lighght' isn't meant to be read aloud, the reader can still get a sense of rhythm from this one-word poem.

  62. February 6, 2014
     Ashley

    "Lighght" has been said to defy "traditional" poetry, and people have
    doubted and questioned the veracity of such a poem, but then again,
    can poetry be defined as anything "traditional"? Can poetry be bound
    and placed specifically in a box based on what people say it has been,
    and what it should be?

    Why be restricted to "traditional" words as a form of expression?

    "Lighght" becomes more than a word that was uttered on a page. It
    becomes a mood, and it becomes a feeling. There is a heaviness to it.

    "Lighght" tested (in my opinion) the laws of language, and how we can
    communicate with one another. Everyone that has acknowledged this
    poem, regardless of their acceptance or complete disdain for the piece,
    has understood (to some degree) what was being thought. Despite the
    "misspelling", the audience ultimately knew the original "correctly"
    spelled word. That is the power of language.

    To try and assimilate poetry, or language, (to me), is foolish.

    A favorite quote of mine from the article that I think sums up things
    quite nicely is: “They never seem to pick on fiction. I guess they don't
    have time to read it.”

  63. February 6, 2014
     Navy

    I'm conflicted. I'd like to say that a single word can be poetry, especially when it has ignited such a (mostly) thoughtful conversation amongst strangers, but my human nature wants to agree with the poster who called it "word magic" in replacement of poetry.
    I say "human nature" because our species have been indexing and categorizing and defining things for centuries: science, math, literature. It brings us comfort to place things together that make sense. To say, "this is poetry because xyz" feels good, validating. Then again, aren't all these ideas (systems and classifications) just a bunch of theory anyway? Wasn't all this arbitrary at some point in time? Why do we use the decimal system instead of a binary one? Why don't we use "!" to mean "and" or "&" to signify excitement. And now, I'm spinning out of control and lost sight of my argument; for which "lighght" may take some credit.
    Poetry. I guess.

  64. February 6, 2014
     shelly

    I think that the word "lighght" is poetry but also such a visual thing. Its
    the median of art and poetry together by how the word is written and
    also how is sounds. I think its strange that the people were mad at him
    for the word, but i also think they were just jealous that they didn't win
    the money.

  65. February 7, 2014
     Julia

    Not only is "lighght" more of an image than a spoken word, but it's also more of a feeling that's difficult to describe. When you try to pronounce "lighght", it looses everything and sounds like a stutter, at most. When it's read silently off a page, however, it makes so much sense. I keep finding this a synonym for a feeling that one has but can't describe. A feeling that's strongly felt, but difficult to explain to another individual. Therefor, "lighght" was the first time an emotion was created that was impossible to explain through verbal language. It was so controversial because explaining it's relevance was nearly exhausting, and ambiguous as well.

  66. June 26, 2014
     B.

    hmmmm..... this poem - and all the discussion about it - reminds me of a book I read about visual art called by Thomas Wolfe called "The Painted Word." This poet is very "clever," IE contrived. Some people like that.

  67. July 21, 2016
     Burney Marsh

    Have you heard of "The Emperor's New Clothes Syndrome?" Well, I am reminded of it each time I encounter this alleged poem. This is simply a colossal joke resulting from a singular lack of imagination. The typist had no intent, endowed it with no meaning. It is the black dot on a white canvas that art-expert-wanta-be's gather around and say, "Wow! Brilliant! Yes, I can see what the artist meant . . . the apocalypse, impending doom, the dark hole of emotional need . . . it's all there in that stunning . . . dot." Uhmmm . . . No. It's just a dot. And this is just a misspelled word.