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.

The Spoils: June 2012

  1. American Poets in the 21st Century: The New Poetics, edited by Claudia Rankine and Lisa Sewell (reviewed here and here)
  2. American Women Poets in the 21st Century: Where Lyric Meets Language, edited by Claudia Rankine and Juliana Spahr (reviewed here)
  3. He Do The Gay Man In Different Voices by Stephen S. Mills
  4. Isn’t It Romantic: 100 Love Poems by Younger American Poets, edited by Brett Fletcher Lauer and Aimee Kelly (reviewed here)
  5. Love-in-Idleness by Christopher Hennessy (poet interviewed here; reviewed here, here, here, and here)
  6. Mentor and Muse: Essays from Poets to Poets, edited by Blas Falconer, Beth Martinelli, and Helena Mesa (interview with Falconer about the book here)
  7. My Imaginary by Laura Madeline Wiseman (audio recordings here)
  8. Poets on Teaching: A Sourcebook, edited by Joshua Marie Wilkinson (sample quotes here, eight full essays available here, reviews here and here)

Ciaran Carson

These are by no means the only places online where one may find poems written by Ciaran Carson, but it’s a start. First, the “official” pages:

Carson has translated Irish epic poems, from the traditional heroics of The Táin to the erotic farce of The Midnight Court, as well as Dante‘s Inferno.  He has also “adapted” sonnets by Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, and Stephane Mallarme in The Alexandrine Plan (and used the same Alexandrine line for his own book-lengh sonnet sequence The Twelfth of Never). It seems appropriate then for his work to be translated as well in:

  • a Spanish-language essay on “the quotidian violence” in Carson’s work that contain the English texts and Spanish translations of “Belfast Confetti,” “Night Out,” “Campaign,” and “Ambition”
  • an Italian-language essay on Carson’s “poetic maps and stories of Belfast” that feature the English texts and Italian translations of “Turn Again,” “Loaf,” “Punctuation,” the celebrated “Dresden” (as well as, once again, “Belfast Confetti” and “Campaign”), “Smithfield Market,” “Travellers,”  and “Slate Street School”
Here are two big-name periodicals with one poem each:

Finally, two other sources:

  • a discussion thread on The Blue Dragon has two moving poems of love and potential loss: “Pas De Deux” and “The Story of Madame Chevalier”
  • an unpublished personal anthology of favorite poems from 2000 B.C. to 2000 A.D. include three poems by Carson: “Bagpipe Music,” “Dresden” once again, and “Hamlet.”

Finally: Jorie Graham

After years of reading whatever I can find online by and about Jorie Graham and making do with what few poems by her I have in this or that anthology, I finally bought a copy of her now-15-year-old collection The Errancy yesterday. I’m surprised it’s taken me this far, given how I echo her twin interests in philosophy and film studies.

Although I’m not sure how The Errancy ranks with her other books, I was won over by reviews that mention Lacan and Deleuze, that listen to Graham’s “heady, improvisational music” and “accretionary syntax,” and that cite bits from her “mutated love poems.” It also helped that I’m preoccupied with errors, secrets, and lies–all those different ways one swerves away from capital-T Truth–and the very title of The Errancy certainly points to that.

(I should also mention that Emily Galvin, Graham’s daughter with James Galvin, has published her own collection with a strong basis in mathematics, also an interest of mine, poetically speaking. I think I should read James Galvin’s work sometime, just to complete this little family circle.)

I’ve posted a link to this interview before, pointing out Graham’s remarks about Michael Palmer, but this time, I think I’d like to paste the relevant excerpt here, as a reminder to myself about the work I’m (supposed to be) doing (all emphases mine):

keeping the song alive is keeping alive a world in which song is possible. You have to keep hope alive. Any kind of truth you might arrive at that hasn’t contended with hope is going to be very partial. [pause] Michael Palmer is very interesting in that regard. He has extraordinary music. I think he’s learned better than anyone the Stevens trick of making the poem disintegrate on the surface but stay totally alive musically. To me he’s very important in that regard. The way he uses repetition. The particular way he will bring certain images back without that turning into structure. Pure desire kept alive in the act of writing by the way fragments recur.

I also like how Graham talking about silence (“Making the silence come awake in the poem is important to my process. The silence – or anything else that resists the impulse to imagine, own, transform.”) leads her to a really brilliant disquisition on her use of the poetic line, one where I’m hard-put to emphasize any idea as more important than another:

…lines of breath-length, say, lines that contain up to five stresses, sometimes feel to me like measures that make that silence feel safe. A silence that will stay at bay for as long as it takes to get the thing said. Writing in lines that are longer than that, because they are really unsayable or ungraspable in one breath unit for the most part (and since our desire is to grasp them in one breath unit) causes us to read the line very quickly. And the minute you have that kind of a rush in the line (emphasized perhaps by the absence of commas and other interpretive elements) what you have is a very different relationship with the silence: one that makes it aggressive – or at least oceanic – something that won’t stay at bay. You have fear in the rush that can perhaps cause you to hear the fearful in what is rushed against.

What you feel – this is Romantic of course – is the pressure of a silence that might not wait until the end of the line to override you. And so you have to rush those words into it. In this new book, I’m writing mostly in traditional lines again, with less counterpoint from such prose-length units. But the calm assurance of the standard English line has always interested and troubled me. In Erosion, the line-length tended to be much smaller than the norm. The voice in that book was, in fact, so aware of the overriding presence of the white space that it just tried to mash words into that space. With great pressure. To create the sensation of that gravitational weight. Sternness. Solemnity. As if to build cell by cell a fabric that could take the weight of eternity into it – like human tissue.

And here’s a bit from a poem that isn’t in The Errancy but in a later collection called Never. It moved me this morning when I read it, out of the context of the entire poem:

from the 2002 collection Never

from "The Taken-Down God" by Jorie Graham

Three Poems From NOO Journal

Gesticulation—it is half the language
carelessly nailed, looking like nothing at all,
the coming back from going where and touching.

After Math

Man on the Dump

I don’t really like doing blog entries like these, but I’ve got more than seventy tabs open on my browser–excluding this one!–so I really need to unload some links here. This blatter of grackles certainly needs a place:

  1. The University of California Press has made a lot of their 1982-2004 publications available online. This link to the general list has Christopher Beach’s excellent ABC of Influence: Ezra Pound and the Remaking of American Poetic Tradition at the top. Unfortunately, not everything is accessible outside UC campuses; to cite one particular disappointment, Charles Olson’s Collected Prose is inaccessible where I am.
  2. If the first link was about digitizing books that first appeared in print, Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 2 is digital literature from the get-go. It’s a resource so rich I almost feel like weeping at the site sight of it. There’s only one item there I’m familiar with, which I highly recommend: Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern’s compelling Façade. (From the 2006 archive, here’s “Star Wars, One Letter At A Time.”)
  3. I’ve already posted “Great Gatsbys” from Hark! A Vagrant on my Facebook wall, but here, I’ll throw in instead a three-part series derived from Nancy Drew covers. As someone who absolutely adores Kelly Link’s “The Girl Detective,” you can imagine how much I enjoyed cartoonist Karen Beaton’s work.
  4. I want to read Stephen Burt‘s Close Calls With Nonsense, but I’m very pleased that its title essay, which is about “how to read, and perhaps enjoy, very new poetry,” is available online. It should be said though that the online version is of 2004 vintage, so one needs to adjust one’s expectations with regard to the use of the term “very new poetry.”
  5. For another take on 20th-century poetry, which may still be applied to much of the work done now in our 21st century, here’s an essay I’ve always enjoyed reading: “Parentheses and Ambiguity in Poetry of the Twentieth Century.” Choice quote: “The parenthesis in poetry might be better termed ‘par-antithesis’ for it expresses, through being the private space for a poet’s thoughts, a tangential movement to the rest of the poem, even whilst being integrated in it.”
  6. Mary Ruefle’s “On Erasure” contains fresh takes on what is becoming a somewhat common though still marginalized approach to poetry, but she comes up with a fresh take that begins with an anecdote of mishearing, includes a distinction between writing a poem and making poetry, and a conclusion pointing to erasure as “part of our lives.” That sounds irredeemably cheesy, but her Fernando Pessoa epigraph hints at what she means: “Everything stated or expressed by man is a note in the margin of a completely erased text.” (That sounds almost Heidegerrian, doesn’t it? But then, I would think so.)
  7. Two from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, one of my favorite Web sites and certainly my favorite humor site: “Martha Ballard, Enlightenment-Era Midwife, Reviews Mötley Crüe, A Musical Group” and “Ten Excerpts From A Magazine Found At A Philly Gentlemen’s Club, Reformatted As Love Poems” are absolutely hilarious. (Here’s something even funnier: the autocorrect feature of PhraseExpress, an autotext utility installed on my computer, placed umlauts on “Mötley Crüe,” as is proper.)
  8. Poems about Freud: “In Memory of Sigmund Freud” is a typically moving elegy from W. H. Auden, while James Cummins’s “Freud” is a typically winking example of the contemporary sestina (Cummins also wrote a witty barb of a poem called “To Helen Vendler and Jorie Graham at Harvard” which targets Stevens scholarship). And then there’s Peter O’Leary’s “The Collected Poems of Sigmund Freud.”

(“Where was it one first heard of the truth? The the.”)