Do You Have a Minute?

Do you have a minute?

Well, good, then I can tell you a little bit about Minute Poetry.

No, this is not a poem that you can write in a minute but it is a short, rhyming verse form that contains 6o syllables spanning 12 lines.  If you want to get very strict with the rules, these 12 lines should also be in iambic meter with 3 stanzas of 8, 4, 4, 4 and a rhyme scheme of aabb, ccdd, eeff.

Of course, that is if you are sticking with the form strictly.

I first learned of the poem while I was researching the writers who taught in the MFA program I was hoping to attend.  I knew the work of Cathy Smith Bowers but I did not own any of her books.  At the time, “A Book of Minutes” was her newest release.

A Book of Minutes” was Cathy’s third book of poetry. In this collection Cathy explores secular and meditative poems based, in part, on the idea of a monastic Book of Hours.

In the Preface to Cathy’s book she explains how she discovered the form during a poetry reading in Oklahoma City. Cathy was drawn to the “clarity and brevity” of the poems.  She describes how she wanted to try this form as a, “safe container for the raw, emotional subject matter” of which she wanted to begin writing.  That subject being the death of her youngest brother Paul from AIDS.  The book came out six years later.

I think Cathy’s description of the form is quite apt when she states that the form tends toward, “an elegant weaving of the Elizabethean sonnet and early-Eastern haiku.”

Cathy Smith Bower’s preface also indicates that the actual creator of the form is Verna Lee Hindgardner of Arkansas.  I am so glad that I happen to have Cathy’s book because without it I would not have been able to find that fact.  When I tried to google “minute poems” and/or variations of “minute poetry” there was very little to be found but once I had a name I found archives that indicated Verna developed the style in the 1960’s.  This form is from the 60’s and yet I did not hear about it until 2006? It makes me wonder what other modern forms I am missing out on.

One of my favorite poems from “A Book of Minutes” is Anatomy of a Southern Kiss with a first stanza that goes:

She said, Just put your stuff right there.
He said, Right whar?
Mimicking her

(into second stanza drawl. ….).

It is often the wit that draws me into a poem with such noticeable rhyme.  It is difficult, it seems, to take a rhyming form seriously in modern writing. Not that Cathy Smith Bowers poems are all knee slappers, because there are tender moments such as When Beth Died where she writes:

No cards, no casseroles.  Just you
at my cloest door
offering to
do my nails.[ How ]

In just this first stanza Cathy sets up a poignant haiku-like moment that steps outside of cliche.

I found this form compelling enough that I thought I would try it myself. So for April 2009 (National Poetry Month) I attempted the NaPoWriMo challenge (Nathional Poetry Writing Month) of not only writing a poem a day, but I would take it a step further and I would try writing a minute poem each day.  This would be a huge departure from my love of writing mostly narrative free verse.  Also since the poems are so short and formal, I would most likely be completing a poem in one day, which would also be a change for me.

Because usually my initial handwritten draft of a poem is very much a draft.  When I go back and type up the draft, often a month or more later, the poem shapes itself.  But now I would be asking my brain to work in a completely different way.  This can be a blessing. When you step outside of your comfort zone and normal process, you can often be surprised at where the stricture of form will take you.  I have not had any of my minute poems yet selected for publication but I would like to post one here so you can see what I hope is a promising example of what the form can do within very modern themes.


We were playing chicken in the
pool. We lost. I
fell. My teeth (why

was my mouth open?) bit into
your scalp as blue
water met me.
I noted the

taste of metal in my mouth. The
tang of blood. Me.
I want to rise
again. To try.

It will be interesting to see if any of my minute poems make it into publication.  After spending 30 days attempting to write them, I am even more in awe of what Cathy Smith Bowers pulled off in her book and it makes me curious to try to find some of the books by the minute’s creator, Verna Lee Hindgardner.

The next time you have a few minutes, give the form a try.  I think you will come away with a feeling of focus which may not only turn out a decent formal poem, but may lead you to places you never fathomed. (initial definition) (an example) (information about the creator of the minute form)

“A Book of Minutes” by Cathy Smith Bowers.

“The Surface of Things” by Phebe Davidson

And Mel Bosworth was nice enough to ask for a poem to read on his YouTube site so now my poem Fallen, which is a minute poem, is available to read/listen! If you click through on the title it takes you to the YouTube page where in the side bar next to the video you can read the text of the poem and I will also embed the video below:

Jessie Carty is the Editor of Shape of a Box, YouTube’s First Literary Magazine.  Her poems have appeared in publications such as MARGIE, Iodine Poetry Journal and The Northville Review.  Her non-fiction works have appeared in publications such as The Main Street Rag and  She received her MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. Her first chapbook “At the A & P Meridiem” was released by Puddinghouse Publications in 2009. She can find her lurking on the web, but mostly at her BLOG.


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