Glossary

Term: Epigram


An epigram is a short, succinct poem, often with witty (or even vicious) content. Coleridge wrote an epigram to define an epigram: "What is an epigram? A dwarfish whole, / Its body brevity and wit its soul." It is worth noting that this is a stricter definition than epigrams seem to have had in classical Greece and Rome, where the form originates; it is probably the eighteenth-century fondness for a smart wit and the epigrams of Martial that tightened the definition thus. The preference in contemporary poetry for exploring an issue rather than summing it up means epigrams are not as popular as they were then, but Anne Stevenson's 'On Going Deaf', with its wit, rhyme and definite opinion, is probably the closest example within the Archive.

How to use this term

Samuel Menashe's 'The Living End' manages to fit mysticism into an epigram.

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Daljit Nagra

From time to time a poet is in residence at the Poetry Archive, talking about poetry with anyone who wants to join in the conversation.

Comic Verse

I'm troubled, as you can tell by my introduction, about comic verse. Comic verse gets bad press because rigid notions of comedy foreground throwaway poems. Surely the best comedy is when the poem surprises us into laughter rather than setting up t... >