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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Five for Today

  1. Remember that old opposition set up between word and image? The Visual Thesaurus mentioned here makes it easy to say goodbye to it. Even better is the VisuWords graphic dictionary, which has the benefit of being free.
  2. Not only does the name of The Unemployed Philosopher’s Guild sound Python-esque, so do the products it sells. These include Post Structural-Its sticky notes, Freudian slippers, and Nietzsche’s Will to Power Bars (“When your Wille zur Macht is a-flagging or you’re just a little tired of transvaluating all values, try these!”).
  3. Singapore-born poet Jee Leong Koh, now living in New York, writes a sequence of ghazals entitled “A Lover’s Recourse,” which, as its title suggests, responds to Roland Barthes. Superlative work, and my own recent interest in the ghazal (thanks to my reading of “Newlywed Ghazal” in a powerful poetry collection by another Asian poet) suddenly seems burdened by the anxiety of influence(s). Still, talk about eclecticism being “the degree zero of contemporary general culture”! (Ah, salut once more, M. Barthes.)
  4. William H. Sherman’s “How to Make Anything Signify Anything” is a fantastic article about Francis Bacon’s development of the “biliteral cipher,” generating a code that ends up culminating in a photograph of people who, by turning their heads in certain ways, themselves become an encoded message. Holy McLuhan, Batman! The sender is the medium is the message!
  5. Ange Mlinko writes about Robert Duncan writing about H.D. in “Duncan’s Divagations.” I like Mlinko, I like Duncan, I like HD, so that’s a triple whammy. One of the many gems: “The poet, in order to find the real, must look under the surface of the world to its hidden core of perdurance. The figure for one’s pantheon of masters is not, properly, a ‘canon,’ as it is in English departments. It is, per the ancient tarot pack, an arcana.” Beautiful.

 

Postscript: Mlinko’s “The Everyday Oblique”, one of my favorite articles, also dealt with codes and is yet another example of her concise yet substantial brand of criticism. Her other articles for The Nation often make for compelling reading, too, exhibiting the same qualities.

To whit, she lauds John Ashbery for having discovered that “the ideal poetry for the Information Age is a poetry of no information” and reads country music in Graham Foust‘s poems, based on how country “typically mines the quotidian and refines it into an elegy you’ve been hearing on the radio all your life.” Again, beautiful.