Long poems. What are they? Book-length continuous flows of lines and stanzas or series of poems capable of standing alone, but interacting in a way that forms something more than a manuscript? How long is long? "Howl" qualifies when compared to a haiku, but how about when one considers "Iovis," the twenty-something year project by Anne Waldman, now approaching 1,000 pages? Or is "long poem" an inappropriate term for her multi-volume series--no different from any poet's life-time body of work, capable of being considered "one poem."
And how do long poems differ from shorter poems? Is length the only criterion for a long poem, or is there a qualitative difference, more akin to the difference between a black hole and a normal star, than the difference between a large jupiter-like planet and a small frozen body like the planetoid Pluto?
Indeed, in the poetic universe there are a seemingly infinite variety of ways that words and lines, stanzas and non-stanzas cluster together to form varied structures, in the same way that matter clumps together to form asteroids, planets, stars and galaxies.
The following poems are major bodies of work--a beginning list of important long poems to view and review to expand one's understanding of the poetic universe. Feel free to add to the list, post a review, or comment upon them or the idea of the long poem. It's all part of the work of producing new text that just might stimulate the birth of another long poem.
A. R. Ammons, "Garbage," and "Ommateum": both booklength poems in many sections.
Anne Carson, "Autobiography Of Red": a novel in verse.
Chaucer, "The Canterbury Tales."
Hart Crane, "The Bridge": modern poem in multiple sections centered on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Dante, "The Divine Comedy"
T.S. Elliot: "Four Quartets": long poem of ontological philosophy.
H.D., "Trilogy": three long poems of spiritual exploration, bordering on midrash, written during the London bombings of WWII: "The Walls Do Not Fall," "Tribute To The Angels," and "The Flowering Of The Rod."
Homer, "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey": classic Greek tales to which all western literature owes a debt.
Robinson Jeffers, "Cawdor" and "Medea": lyrical narrative poem, based upon Jeffers own tragic love life, and a verse adaptation of Euripides' drama, created especially for the actress Judith Anderson.
Kenneth Koch, On The Edge, Collected Long Poems: A collection of six longer (36-116 pages) poems.
Larry Levis, "Elegy": In some ways this final book of Levis, published posthumously and edited by Philip Levine and Peter Everwine, can be considered one long poem.
Milton, "Paradise Lost"
Ezra Pound, "Pisan Cantos": some of the most lyrical verse in the English language.
Tomas Transtromer: several poems in "the great enigma" are longer (20 pp. or more).
Walt Whitman, "Leaves Of Grass": classic collection of poems or parts of one long poem that brought American poetry into the modern era.
William Carlos Williams, "Patterson": Williams' classic poem using the conceit of a city to describe "the entire knowable universe."
Friday, July 16, 2010
Long Poems: Galaxies of the Poetic Universe
was born in the Midwest, grew up in New Mexico, and has lived in the San Francisco bay area for two decades. Terry has published in numerous literary journals, including Best New Poets 2012, Crab Orchard Review, Green Mountains Review, Great River Review, New Millennium Writings, and The Comstock Review. His work has garnered six Pushcart Prize nominations. He is the winner of the 2014 Crab Orchard Review Special Issue Feature Award in Poetry. His chapbook, Altar Call, was a winner in the the 2013 San Gabriel Valley Literary Festival, and appears in the Anthology, Diesel. His chapbook, If They Have Ears to Hear, won the 2012 Copperdome Poetry Chapbook Contest, and is available from Southeast Missouri State University Press. His first full-length collection of poems, In This Room (CW Books, 2016), is now available, and his second, Dharma Rain, was released by Saint Julian Press in October of 2016. Terry is a 2008 poetry MFA graduate of New England College, and a free-lance poetry consultant. For more information about him and his work see www.terrylucas.com