Live Notes on Long Poems

David Bartone
October 9, 2009
Comments 3

Picture 5

I can picture the five or so people I’d like to sit around a small table at a town’s salty bar and read Andrew Zawacki’s 30-page Georgia with, from Petals of Zero Petals of One. Bring the soft-voiced loud-breather. The thumb-rubber-by-the-knees. The carpet-bomber even. Each to read a page and pass it, praising ourselves in our diverse and appropriate reading styles, listening with open mouths at the right times or with wiping the beer circles off the table while nodding at the right times. Maybe there’s a poetry bully in the corner with his loud knowledge of something forgotten.

True, this is no tomato juice and beer poem. This is locomotion. I think it is good to set poems of such downhill leaning to the tracks of everywhere.

So when the quiet person beside me reads and I find my responsiveness waning, I know to snap to and get ready to really read.

If poets invent duty for themselves, fine; but at least let’s soar at our inventions. I hope to gather this actual (similar) scenario sometime soon. I hope to read first because I want to read these page-one lines: “snow is not like the snow Georgia/ one is theorem the other will thaw”. But here, have more:

I don’t sleep Georgia

I shoot bullets into the dark

the blunt mimeographic dark

the middle dark Georgia

outside the outside

whatever a ghost’s front tooth is Georgia

let alone ballistics

whatever pulls back the hammer Georgia

coughing up sulfur and strobes of negate

I wait Georgia

think Georgia

the fire is like the snow Georgia

the snow wipes out a oneway street puts nothing in its place

snow is not like the snow Georgia

one is theorem the other will thaw

night is the neighbor girl

she hangs her laundry

she sits on the step

the leaves on the tree in her yard are like florins

her sliding door dress in a squall Georgia

her flowers what is a flower Georgia

When I read the poem on flight one from Hartford to Cincinnati I was proud to let Georgia let itself be. Every answer to “How much attention should I pay to“?” is always a product of the same conjure. I tend to assume (err?) that repetitions are generative for the writer, optional for the reader.

I’m now at a layover for three hours and I am meditating on place–“The Spirit of Pigcinnati”–of course.

Picture 1

It’s not the South here. It’s early fall. The book is in my bag, and I’ve misplaced the Georgia of the poem already. Nothing makes me feel that’s good or bad. In long poems with a repetitious stitch, we chose our degree of permissibility early. Hasn’t the first page already spurred you to decide what Georgia will have to be in order for you to“? Me, I am not so worried about Georgia, so long as it keeps giving me that sweet end of line sip of itself, and it does. I am more interested in the accumulating, the sliding the eyes around any three lines at a time, not the accumulation.

I’m wondering toward something else now, as I sometimes wondered toward something else during Georgia. The keeping up feeling in reading long poems is a measure of momentum much more than meaning. In fact, isn’t it only ‘keeping up’ if you are first trying for something that’s not in the text? We read with hyper-acuity when we are conscious of any acuity at all; is it necessary? These are the long poem issues I suspect more reflection toward.

I wish I weren’t eating Sbarro. Ah, that’s why I wish for salty bar: layover wishes, leading to wishing all the wishes.

Facebook list: 10 minutes, 10 favorite long poems: Go!

Song of Myself
Oppen’s Of Being Numerous
Hart Crane’s Voyages
“The Sermon” chapter IX in Moby Dick ??? Melville
Sky Scrapers ??? Geraldine Monk
Red-Haired Boy ??? Merrill Gilfillan
Fool — Zach Savich
Kenneth Koch’s The Circus (Thank You and Other Poems) and The Circus (The Art of Love) (I know I know. I can do better with Koch.)
Jack Spicer ??? Christ, anything really

Dear David,

Please define favorite long poems.

Thank you,
Eager Reader

Why sure. I suppose I mean the poems you’d line up for the first ten months of a Long Poem of the Month club you are about to launch at the salty bar in town. I guess it’s got to be long enough for you to imagine reading it in turns with five other people while trying to prevent any of that fracas about length defining most groups would love to belabor. I think Fool is the shortest on this list.

The good poet Ben Estes is launching a press–The Song Cave–of long poem books: excitement for his project is entirely why I am writing this.

Ok. Got to run. I can’t wait to spend my next six hours in the air with the regret that I volunteered a top ten list. I will also see–the other book I brought being his selected poems–if I mean Gilfillan’s poem Solstice more than Red-Haired Boy.

3 thoughts on “Live Notes on Long Poems

  1. The Song Cave is doing really beautiful work;
    Cyrus Console’s “OK Tony”
    Amanda Nadelberg’s “Building Castles in Spain,
    and Ben Estes’s own “Cymbals”

    with more coming

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