at Length’s Short Takes on Long Poems

I want to write the long poem, but I’m not sure I can.

Lately, I’ve been working with a particular form I’m tempted to call the singsong skinny sonnet and dismiss as hokey, but I don’t want to be ungrateful to something that’s been goading me to write more poems quickly. In addition, there’s also a commonality in the material that triggers these poems: they mostly have a specific focus on a pop-cultural artifact I barely remember or misremember (unintentionally or intentionally). That intrigues me, as it wasn’t part of the design. Finally, it’s also forcing me to think/write in shorter lines, which I wasn’t wont to do before, despite how much I enjoy reading, say, Graham Foust.

I don’t know how I’ll arrange these in my thesis. I can put them one after the other and call it a series; that would be justifiable. However, there may also be an advantage to spreading them out across the collection. We’ll see. I’ll think about these after writing more poems, whether in this form or another, as well as the critical essay.

(One worry that I do have is how I’m beginning to doubt my abilities to write in the jagged irregular-lined free verse poem I used to be comfortable in. Never satisfied, c’est moi.)

Anyway: I’ve loved at Length ever since I first read Jee Leong Koh’s ghazal sequence Barthes tribute “A Lover’s Recourse” some time back. I hope to submit something with length and quality to them someday. In the meantime, I’m very pleased they asked FIFTY writers to offer “Short Takes on Long Poems.” This is research, scoping out the landscape. Except that I wonder if a long poem is a mountain, because one reads it vertically on the Web, or a horizon, because it stretches in my mind as I read it.

  1. Short Takes on Long Poems, Volume 1 (Dana Levin on Anne Carson‘s “The Glass Essay“)
  2. Short Takes on Long Poems, Volume 2 (David Caplan on T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”)*
  3. Short Takes on Long Poems, Volume 3 (Michael Collier on John Berryman’s “Homage to Mistress Bradstreet”)**
  4. Short Takes on Long Poems, Volume 4 (Darcie Dennigan on Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s “Three Cows and the Moon”)

Some brief comments:

  1. I could have sworn I’ve read Levin before, but nothing strikes me as strongly familiar. That said, I love “The Glass Essay,” and I’m glad they chose that over, say, the book-length works Carson usually likes writing.
  2. While Caplan’s first experience with this poem matches my own, it’s a little weird that this would be the Eliot poem discussed for this series of articles instead of, say, The Waste Land or Four Quartets.
  3. Choosing this over The Dream Songs works, partly because of my relative familiarity with Dream Songs over Bradstreet.
  4. I’ve never heard of Kelly before this, but I love Dennigan, so this is great reading.
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Jim Powell On Sound And Sense

I wish I could read the entire essay from which this came from:

It was Bunting who discovered in a German-Italian dictionary the translation Pound made into a slogan, “dichten = condensare” — ‘to compose poetry is to condense.’ This desiderates compression of sense, economy of means, the quest for le mot juste, for the one right word that supplants a half dozen blurry approximations, the fusion of phrase and perception that subverts habits of thought and speech to embody insight and survive, weathering the erosion of dailiness and the passing of fashionable ideas, rewarding repetition. But in poetry sound and sense are consubstantial, and compression of sense requires corporeal embodiment in the simultaneous melic condensation of verse. Memorability, durability in the mind, has always been recognized as one of the primal functions of poetic form (incantation, hypnosis, is another), and memory is a hedonist. She lives in the mind, which is a carnal thing, and wants corporeal nurture, wants in verse the carnality of a substantial music–impedance, weight, solidity, resistance: impedance like a burr to snag in recollection, resistance to outlast the corrosive blizzard of oblivion, solidity that like Yeats’ “stone in the midst of all” troubles the recourses of memory and reflection, a weight of phrase that sinks beyond the currents of ephemerality into the deeper reaches of our lives.

via Chicago Review 34:2 (Spring 1984)

From “Movement As Language”

I hate to simply copy-and-paste what has been posted here, but it’s been around three years, and I figure I’ll focus more on poet Laura Riding than on choreographer Len Lye. I’ve been interested in Riding, since I read these interviews with Lisa Samuels, so seeing these portions from the 1935 essay “Movement as Language,” er, moved me. Now I want to read the entire thing:

Movement is the result of a feeling in one thing of strong difference from other things.  Movement is always one thing moving away from other things – not toward.  And the result of movement is to be distinct from other things : the result of movement is form.  The history of any definite form is the movement of which the form is the result.  When we look at something and see the particular shape of it we are only looking at its after-life.  Its real life is the movement by which it got to be that shape.  The danger of thinking of physical things in terms of form rather than of movement is that a shape can easily seem more harmonious, more sympathetic with other shapes than its historical individuality justifies : there is a literary temptation to give it too much meaning, to read truth-signs where there are only life-signs.  But if we think of physical things in terms of movement we avoid the confusion of “life” with “truth”.  Movement is strickly the language of life.  It expresses nothing but the initial, living connotations of life.  It is earliest language.

Yves Bonnefoy on Poetry

I completely agree with you that poetry is also a formal use of language. Indeed, only form allows us to hear the tone of the words, and it is precisely because verse is sonorous reality that words in it are no longer subject to the sole authority of conceptual thought. This enables us to perceive reality otherwise than through language. Form in poetry silences the conceptual meaning of words; it is therefore the condition of the direct gaze upon the world.

Here’s another gem:

For poetry can only be a partial approach, which substitutes for the object a simple image and for (our feelings) a verbal expression—thereby losing the intimate experience. On the other hand there is nothing before language, for there is no consciousness, and therefore no world, without a system of signs. In fact, it is the speaking-being that has created this universe, even if language excludes him from it. This means that we are deprived through words of an authentic intimacy with what we are, or with what the Other is. We need poetry, not to regain this intimacy, which is impossible, but to remember that we miss it and to prove to ourselves the value of those moments when we are able to encounter other people, or trees, or anything, beyond words, in silence.

via Paris Review – The Art of Poetry No. 69, Yves Bonnefoy