Ron Padgett: Reading and Writing Long Poems



thank you thank you and good morning it's kind of funny that we decided to volunteer for this panel called the reading and writing the long poem and we only have fifty little minutes to talk about it seems like such a big subject so we're gonna try to be brief and we're gonna each talk a little bit and then maybe ask each other some things and then hopefully have some conversation with you if time permits reading and writing a long poem that's two really different things I mean it's one thing to read a long poem but it's really something else to write write one and when I started thinking about this topic the long poem well how long is long because when I started writing poetry as a kid that was about 13 my mother gave me a little spiral notebook which is tiny so I wrote tiny poems to fit on that page and then when I got to be a little more sophisticated at the age of 15 I got a typewriter and so I wrote poems that fit on an eight-and-a-half by 11 sheet and and when I got down near the end of the sheet I knew you should stop the poem pretty surgery so it prohibits Hort of worked against writing long poems I mean I knew there were a long poems but I didn't think I could ever write one and then when I got my first computer there wasn't a bottom of the page and I began writing I finally got used to writing poetry on a computer and then it was easier to write long quotes because I didn't know where I was quotes supposed to end I just followed the poem itself but one thing I'd like to talk about I'm gonna talk mainly about writing long poems not so much about reading them I love reading them if they're good and I mean it's like once you get inside a great long poem well like the Iliad or the Canterbury Tales or whatever I never want to get out it's like reading remembrance of things past once you get past the first volume which is very difficult I found and you get inside that long work you never want to leave that universe so I love reading long poems oh and another one called Orlando Furioso by arias no it's there's a beautiful English translation of it by what's-her-name I forgot and now Barbara something it's wonderful anyway so I want to make a distinction here Oh years ago I've written mainly shorter poems and I was in London I got about 1970 I guess and I came across this book called the the Collins albatross book of longer poems and I thought you know if I buy that book it'll help me write a longer pond it turns out I didn't open it for 25 years I'm so intimidated by the thought but but but I did I had started writing longer ones in the trick is to for me at least was to make a distinction between epic poems which are obviously long like Orlando Furioso is like 1,300 pages or the earlier to the Odyssey or the Roman de la Rose or Ganju nor the prelude of Wordsworth or some other really epic Ponce and I think Anna's gonna talk about epic poems I'm gonna talk about longer poems a very tricky part of this title of this book it's not long Punk but longer Holmes well longer than what you know haiku and so it's it's it's a very handy a slippery concept to keep in mind and not so you don't get so intimidated by the sheer size of writing one part of the thing that determines the length that the sense of the long poem it's not just that there are a lot of words in it or a lot of pages it's the scale of the poem there's a poem by frank O'Hara called Biotherm and I always remembered biotherm as a very long poem and every time I go back and read it I'm continually surprised by it's only like seven or eight or ten pages it's not thirty pages because the scale of that point is so immense that is deceptive Sol Sol Sol Inc isn't just not the sole criterion writing long poems one thing I did finally as I told myself I have to write a long poem this is ridiculous how can I be a great poet if I haven't written a long horn imagine if Emily Dickinson had said such a stupid thing there's what a rector but I seem to have survived it what I did was I just made a dumb rule I said I'm gonna write every day I'm gonna sit down at my desk every day and I'm gonna write 10 pages and as I don't care if it's good or bad or indifferent or if it's notational or what I'm gonna write 10 pages every day and I did that for five or six days I can't remember I came up with about 50 or 60 pages of material and I put it away for a while and I wouldn't looked at it again later and a lot of it was was dreck and rambling irrelevant boring etc but some of it was pretty good I was surprised so I did the obvious thing I took out all the trig and I stuck the other pieces together there's like what one Felipe was saying earlier is you tear up the pieces and you stick them together and move them around and make transitions and it turns out I did make these transitions that were very tricky which is typical of all my work is actually that transitions are tricky and slippery and but it all fit together and made this long poem which is a lot of fun for me to read to this day if I may congratulate myself another thing I did writing a long poem but this is not a strategy exactly is I was looking at seed catalogs for flowers actually they weren't mine I was house-sitting in the person whose house it was had all his seed catalogs coming and I started looking at them and that the flowers look pretty good in the color pictures but what really got me was the names of the flowers the different fabulous names these flowers have been given by the people who developed a particular breed and just the names these flowers was so exciting and they were they started reminded me of girls and women that I had been in love with or devoted to including my wife and my mother and and people had crushes on and I started writing this poem comparing this this female River she was she varied during the poem to these different flowers and it went on and on and it made him eat a long poem and it was very easy because I just kept turning through the seed catalogs and finding another flower and and so it came out to be one of the basic types of long poem not epic but long poem is the catalog poem or the list one and if you look at like Whitman's works Whitman basically is an author of lists pause he enumerates all these wonderful things and that gives his plum momentum it's very hard to write a long poem that doesn't have a story stories a great armature for long poems or have a catalog or a list I think those are two basic ones the other one is for the fragmentary types like ezra pound's cantos which i see is really one big long poem and an Waldman's long I oh this is that way too the other way is to find a point in a poetic form that will keep you keep you going like the form of using OTO Rima and if you use though tava Rima it's a self-generating form I mean you you finished one stanza and the form propels you into the next stanza almost automatically that's what Byron used for dong Xuan and what Kenneth Kok used for his two long poems Coe or a season on earth and the duplications are both wonderful comic poems and arias no use for Orlando Furioso it's its its opponent has just arrived me a rhyme scheme that just rolls and rolls and rolls it's a little bit like the sestina where you have the end words and you have to use them it kind of pulls you forward so I would recommend if you want to try I think I'm sure a lot of you write poetry here and if you haven't written a long poem give it a shot it's kind of a it's like instead of going to Florida slike going to the moon you know it's it's I mean Florida can be nice I guess but going to the moon mm-hmm let's see I have any other gibberish from March to May oh yeah you might want to also look at Hart cranes long poem the bridge and William Carlos Williams long poem Patterson a Patterson it was a poem there was a book that was very thrilling to me when I was in high school and I looked at it last year and I didn't like it it was strange because I admired him so much Asch berries it's a long poem called the skaters which is a masterful long poem and James Schuyler a poem called him to life and of course the wasteland and and foreign foreign poets as well aimé césaire or bless Sandra's trans-siberian Express or Apollinaris zone which is only about six pages but it seems to cover the universe and then there's a couple of contemporary poets aside from man who write long poems and do it very well one is named Clark Coolidge was I think a master of the long poem and the other is the poet who in fact she was a chancellor until recently named Berlin hedge inian he's very good at writing poems not everybody is because the danger of a long poem is that you it gets boring just because it's long so you're got to be really good to do it you

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