Geof Huth on Words and Pwoermds

H. L. Hix: In my head, I put your works into the box labeled “poetry,” even though most of the works I have of yours are labeled by you, the author, not as “poems” but as “pwoermds.”  Are your pwoermds a new kind of poem, or something other than poems (perhaps related to poems, but distinct from them)?  Or is that a distinction that doesn’t matter to you?  A typical lyric poem invites the reader to interpret it, or at least we often behave as if that were true; to what do pwoermds invite the reader?


Geof Huth: “Poetry” is the name of the realm I work within, but I see poetry particularly broadly, not even requiring the presence of words in a work I would call a poem. The word “poem,” though, seems important to me because it grounds my practice in an intense focus on language: the way it looks, sounds, and means (processes that Pound referred to with various -poeias but which I call shape, sound, and sense). I call some of my poems “pwoermds” for the same reason a writer of sonnets might call his works “sonnets”—only because it is a more specific term.


There is nothing particularly new about pwoermds, and I am not the creator of the form. I’ve written them for about a quarter of a century now and have written hundreds of them. It is a form both easy and impossible to write: a single word presented as a poem, a single word bearing the weight of expected significance.


The earliest pwoermds were written in the early 1960s, and Aram Saroyan, a onetime minimalist poet, was the most famous and probably most successful practitioner of the form. All I have done of any consequence is give the form an unpronounceable name: “pwoermd,” an interweaving of the words “poem” and “word.” Against all reasonable expectation (and as if there were a crying need for it), this word has become the common term for referring to poems consisting of nothing but a single word.


A pwoermd is, significantly, the distillation of a poetic moment in a single word or string of letters. This means that a pwoermd is a poem, but an extreme minimalist poem, one sometimes reduced to a single letter. Yes, a pwoermd is meant to be understood, interpreted, made a part of a reader’s consciousness. Pwoermds work, usually, through processes of distortion to suggest new ways of looking at language or thinking about the world. Some pwoermds are nature poems describing a moment in the natural world, many are revelatory puns focused on human activity or language and meaning themselves, and a few are sound poems meant to mean primarily through the beauty or dissonance of their sounds rather than anything else.


Emerson said, “Every word was once a poem.” And every imagined word can be a poem, though I would never claim that every neologism is a poem. Most neologisms are practical particles of the language, and pwoermds should have nothing to do with practicalities.


Huth, Geof.  NTST.  if p then q, 2010.

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