Poetry Porch: Introduction 2004


The Long Poem

Is the long poem suited to the Internet? Short poems fit on the computer screen. Short poems do not put demands on our time. Yet how satisfying it is to follow the rhythm of the poem that is not in a hurry, that wrestles with more than one idea, that pursues multiple aspects of a single theme, that is beset by contradictions which must be included since to ignore them would be to resort to simplification.

This issue of The Poetry Porch presents several examples of the long poem. One challenge of reading the long poem is to note how each achieves unity through its varying parts. Robert K. Johnson’s narration of the prodigal son story considers a lesser known point of view in the familiar narration. Fifteen sonnets by Kim Bridgford rely on repetition of parallels in length, rhyme, and meter as a unifying factor in her sequence where children of paradise are cherished and terrifying. In a series of shaped poems, John Hildebidle presents a variety of visual forms that mirror the transforming appearances of snow: a geometric contour, a vertical fall, a horizontal mass. The meditation on January in Rome by Julia Budenz creates unity through composition in iambic pentameter and by focusing on double images or faces, as exemplified by Janus, in the date (past and present), the place (public and private), and the narrator (real and created). Suzanne Dubroff’s translation of the poetry of René Char also operates on the principle of two, in this case an apparent dialogue. Richard Fein presents the relationship of the poet to writing in his Yiddish language as evolving in a series of stages (language, readers, lover, life, dream). Henry Weinfield also creates the semblances of progression through genre as he weaves categories of music (dirge, song, fugue) with literary categories (epithalamium, allegory) in his poem that takes a journey to the beginning of time. Rebecca Seiferle’s poem announces a need for complexity in its theme of multifaceted identities which confound the assumptions inherent in personal pronouns I, we, you. Examining the notion that experience broadens the distances between people, she relies on length to work out sequences of metaphor that don’t seem to relate until each is explored in full.

A friend explains her engagement with writing this kind of poem in these general terms: The long poem has had a long history, an honorable history, an exciting history. There is value, there is excitement, in discovering how this kind of art can be claimed, or reclaimed, for our own time.

Joyce Wilson
June 2004

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