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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Breaking The Page Barrier

Poet Robert Peake muses on breaking through the barriers that keep a poem less than 40 lines in length:

The stand-up comedian Billy Connolly is a master at delivering humor through seemingly endless digressions. When he finally comes back to the main topic, long since forgotten in the audience’s mind, he earns not only laughs but trust that he knew what he was doing all along. Good long poems can also function in this way — taking time to deliver poetry through the details, but retaining a sense of focus and direction all along.

2 Responses to “Breaking The Page Barrier”

  1. Jim Murdoch says:

    Epics like ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ aside I’ve never been able to get into longer poems and I’ve certainly never been able to write them. I’ve not written a poem longer than a page since I was seventeen and most of them are lucky if they hit ten lines. I like poetry that gets to the point and I know a long poem is an experience, a journey but I usually start asking, “Are we there yet?” by the start of the second stanza. Actually that’s not true, just the thought of having to read a long poem has me nodding off.

    jb says: Interesting, Jim. I’m sure that that is most people’s experience. But I was interested in Robert Peake’s recognition of a personal “tendency to want to end a poem after delivering a few good lines, to “look ahead” to the conclusion and shape the direction toward that end.”
    Also that there may well be more to be said in a poem if that tendency is overcome from time to time.

  2. Robert says:

    I can certainly empathize with Jim M. on this. But Poets like Marvin Bell, Li-Young Lee, David St. John, and, of course, the epic poets of yesteryear have convinced me there can be merit to raising the stakes, as it were, through pushing past one conclusion and, often, into even more interesting territory. I suppose that is a simplistic, tactical way of looking at the idea of negative capability.

    jb says: Hi Robert. Good to see you here. As a novelist I don’t normally have this kind of problem, except in as much as publishers love following trends and fashions (for many of them, it’s the only thing they know how to do) and when it’s fashionable to publish blockbusters, as it is from time to time, they might suggest welding two short novels together. Oh, how I wish that was a joke.