American poet Aram Saroyan’s minimalist poems are meant as much to be seen as to be read. They work with the immediacy of images and the palpability of sculpture, eliciting an instantaneous affective response that is lost in the time it takes to read a sentence. Though a writer, Saroyan counts among his important early influences the work of artists like Andy Warhol and the minimalist sculptor Donald Judd. American advertising was another dominant influence. “I wanted to make a poem that would look good on a billboard,” he once said.
Written in the heady atmosphere of 1960s New York and published when he was in his early 20's, Saroyan’s poems have been the subject of controversy in theUnited States. The poem “lighght”, one of the works scattered across the venues of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014, was crowned the ‘most expensive word in history’ when it was awarded 750 dollars by the National Endowment for the Arts, catapulting Saroyan’s work into the centre of political battles surrounding the government funding for the arts. “lighght” is luminosity captured in a word image. The insertion of a carefully placed extra ‘gh’ transforms the word into a refracted image of itself.
Saroyan’s “ ” holds the Guinness world record for the shortest poem ever written. A ‘poster poem’, its magic lies in the slow germination of one letter from another, giving birth to a captivating four-legged creature. It is often interpreted as an image of the letters ‘m’ and ‘n’ splitting from a source, thus alluding to the birth of language itself. The extended ‘m’ sound evokes ‘I am’, that supreme articulation of human consciousness. These and other minimalist poems by Saroyan will pop up in several venues, acting as verbal punctuations within the whorled explorations that make up the 2014 biennale.