12.26.2010

think it is important to begin to talk more about women writing long poems now that -- as opposed to about a dozen years ago, when the list read several -- everyone writes at least one. There was a time when trying out long poems marked the post-MFA experience, where the MFA was spent writing the type of two-page-and-under poems many workshops used as an upper limit, and then collecting the 36-48 poems into a "slim volume." So the second project -- was often a chance to "get beyond" the artificial limits of the classroom.

Even MFA programs have moved past that. There's been some convergence between the book length poem and the book length poetry project, where because of derivation from the same source or operating to exhaust a subject or..., the poems are so coherent they operate as series rather than collections. I think of this separately from novels in verse and the long narrative poem, although I'm not sure why I do. I guess because if I were going to write a novel, I would probably market it as a novel rather than as a novel in verse, because I don't really see the difference.

But there's something more important: the loosening of publishing restrictions and costs -- the support of micropress and small presses for difficult (including long or very long) work changing things. We see Enslin, Ronald Johnson readily joined by people on this list issuing individual poems as chapbooks and pamphlets, and then rolling them into another context -- a book of books.

The book of books is different from the series is different from a string of books. What is a sequel in poetry, and how is it different from another book in a series? Another mystery with the same detective is often not sequential, or time is not as important. But sometimes it is. There are the lifeworks and the just really long works. There are things which compare to the bildugsroman, the things that compare to a photographic sequence or series of paintings, a group show, or a retrospective.

One thing that surprised me at the outset is that the majority of people who write long poems also write very short poems. For me, I know that part of this is an exercise in the freedom one has with poetry, but I also think it says something valuable about being able to "keep it alive" as well as to develop it. I am no longer very interested in the distinction between the lyrical and the narrative because I think it is an idea that has lost its practical applications vis a vis long works.

We are seeing especially women building major bodies of work, including work which is long form, but, typically, the "cone of silence" is being applied to these works,

partly because of length, since writing an unpaid review on a long book which is part of a mostly unreviewed sustained effort involves a lot more knowledge than writing a squib on a short first book but there are things that I don't think are getting serious attention, such as that these books aren't intended to be ripped through at a sitting, or are limited to literature courses because few workshops read a book a week, or..

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