The one thing I really wanted to find this week at the AWP Conference was a renewed inspiration for writing. I may have only just started my MFA program, but I have done a lot of things in life, and I have already written about most of them. I was feeling burdened by trying to figure out why I took this path in life, instead of making money. It was a great counterpoint to my building ennui to attend the discussion panel, "The Long and the Short of It: Writing, Teaching, & Publishing the Long Poem."
This panel was not the inspiration for writing—that came later today—but instead offered a great measure and vessel for that later experience. Moderated by David Hawkins, and bringing together Kimiko Hahn from Queens College, David Bonanno of American Poetry Review, Julie Agoos from Brooklyn College, and Jonathan Farmer of At Length, the discussion centered around the makeup and efficacy of the long poem form. Farmer spoke of the long form as having an important role in book-length publication, since it is one continuous expression, as opposed to the constant starting and stopping found in a book of shorter lyric poems.
The panelists spoke of things the long poem seems to "select for, or favor," in Farmer's words. They each talked about ambition on the part of the poet, along with a desire for deeper inspection of a theme or subject. Often these poems seem to favor a political subject (which will be important to the inspiration discussion), a more narrative arc (vs. lyric), and the ability to nuance structure, momentum, and self-reflectiveness. These things bond together into a form that Hahn described as not really having a set definition. The brazen ambition, intensity, and power exhibited by its more famous authors (such as Stephen Dobyns, C. D. Wright, or even Tennyson) may be the only definition really necessary.
I may need to take on the long poem, and in my next entry I will talk about the Langston Hughes Tribute that was the inspiration to tackle this form. Sonia Sanchez and the writers gathered by Split This Rock for that tribute struck chords that made a poet glad to have made this choice.