Friday, July 16, 2010

Long Poems: Galaxies of the Poetic Universe

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."

1 comment:

  1. For at least the next few weeks, New South magazine is reading "long poems" for its next issue. Check out the call at