“As to Violin Music”: Time in the Longpoem
This is eternity. This now. This foreshortened span.
— Olson, “The Resistance” 
For Rachel Blau DuPlessis
Depending on how I wish to invoke its structure, I have been at work on
a single poetic project since either 1979, when I first began the idle
jottings that led to “Force,” a section of what is becoming/ has become The Alphabet, or since June 12, 1974, when, while waiting for Rochelle Nameroff to
show up for a luncheon engagement somewhere in the San Francisco
financial district, I noted a “revolving door” on what was then the
world headquarters of the Bank of America across the street and began
to scribble what soon turned in Ketjak — insofar as The Alphabet itself is a part of the larger project named and initiated by that earlier work. 
Twenty to twenty-five years is a sizable period to devote to a single
enterprise, particularly one as uneconomic as a poem, although it has
always felt completely “natural” to me and I find that I have to be
reminded by others of its relative rarity in order to be really
conscious of this. What I want to do here is to sort of reverse or
perhaps cancel what for me is that invisible horizon by specifically
thinking about some of the aspects of time as it moves through that
particularly literary beast I always think of as the longpoem.
“Longpoem,” for me, is a single word precisely because I need a means of designating not simply a poem of size or a poem that has taken a long time to write — they aren’t exactly the same thing  — but rather something out of a larger poetic tradition into which I’ve always felt my own writing belonged (probably even as much as 10 to 15 years before I began composing Ketjak).  That a tradition of the longpoem, however canonic or personal it might be, even exists is worth noting, for the concept of expansion in poetry, of size, quantity, length, weight, however one might wish to conceive of this of going on, seems itself at odds with some conceptions of the poem. Although Ben Friedlander informs me that this cannot be verified from the archives of Basil Bunting’s library now housed at SUNY-Buffalo , Ezra Pound first claimed in 1934 that Bunting once discovered, “fumbling about with a German-Italian dictionary,”  the following dictum:
dichten = condensare
Which Pound then refers to as “the most concentrated form of verbal expression,” the adjective concentrated
carrying forward an idea of language at its most dense visible well
over a century earlier in Wordsworth’s definition: “poetry is the
spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” 
The idea of poetry as something packed, dense, charged: for centuries the poem has been the form of literature most capable of brevity, whether through the epigram, the Sapphic fragment , the haiku or some of the more extreme forms of modern poetry, as in Aram Saroyan’s
or Robert Grenier’s
which, when you read it closely, says, in four colors including two shades of green,
I saw it
where is it
but presents this in such a fashion that it is not accurate really to say that these words occur not just in this sequence, but almost in sequence at all. Rather, they emerge out of the white space in that territory where drawing as the simplest impulse of the human hand transforms itself suddenly into meaning. Indeed, if you were to interpret the blue/ greens as one statement, the red as another, the text would then read
I saw where
it is it
Escher-like in its semiotic illusion, Grenier has farmed this “magical” intersection right at the horizon of language for nearly three decades, having written in 1971,
It isn’t the spoken any more than the written, now, that’s the progression from Williams, what now I want, at least, is the word way back in the head that is the thought or feeling forming out of the ‘vast’ silence/ noise of consciousness experiencing world all the time, as waking/ dreaming, words occurring and these are the words of the poems, whether they, written or spoken or light the head in vision of the reality language wakes in dreams or anywhere, on the street in armor/ clothes. 
Here the potential of the poem for brevity understood as condensare is exploited to leave us hovering precariously at a point beyond which sense and nonsense would cease to be opposites. Grenier is quite willing to take this even further, as with:
One can see the “rhyme” in this piece far more readily than one does
any hint of language, which I take to be the point, a poem as full of
purpose as any ever penned by Wordsworth. If, in fact, the “Crossing
the Alps” passage of The Prelude
narratively presents us with a poet who confronts his own unconscious
when looking out upon nature, trying ever so hard to identify that
horizon of mind, Grenier takes us right there. 
While reading his work may be a learned pleasure, particularly to
someone who does not start out with Grenier as the protégé of Robert
Lowell and editor of Robert Creeley in pursuit of a literally
inexorable sublime, once you actually “get” these works, their power as
texts can be overwhelming, which may account for his status as the
poet’s poet par excellence circa the millennium.
If the poem can be reduced to two prelinguistic strokes upon a page, then almost by definition there is no reason why it could not be reduced further to one. To none? Condensare, the polymorphic/ polysemic potential of the linguistic, suggests a poetics that seeks continually to align itself on the vertical axis of language, tending almost inherently toward a reverse big bang theory of literature: the more dense the better, the whole universe compacted to a pixel. 
In this context, the sheer existence of a longpoem, of the idea of the longpoem, one word or two, stands as an embarrassment. The drive toward the vertically disappearing articulation is turned not upside down, but on its side. There is an impossible purity at work in something like a Grenier text, almost a will to death, enormously sensual and attractive, but never, at least for me, enough. It cannot be “all that is the case” precisely because it doesn’t admit the possibility of cases, the plural. Even the single letter poem, say my own contribution to the Alphabet Anthology, “o,” has a beginning, middle and end.  Grenier’s R H Y M M S are about nothing, if not repetition. If the temporal horizon that is targeted in a statement such as Grenier’s above is simultaneity, the denial of time itself, time conceived only as presence or immanence, then the scandal of language itself must be time, the need to project forward, subject-verb-object, toward the end of a sentence, tale, story, world, as well as the need to remember, to carry forward whatever may have gone on before: when this you see, remember me. Time is what ultimately binds individual letters into words, without which there would be only phonemics. We see it figured on the page not merely as plot or argument or syntax, but as the line itself, that invisible, inevitable directionality without which each new letter would dribble or drift off into space, disconnected from any other.
So time functions as a kind of gravity within the linguistic act, holding things together, orienting the reader/ listener to those magnetic poles of past and future. If we look at Jakobson’s six functions of language — addresser, addressee, contact, code, signifier and signified  — we can begin to grasp that time’s relationship to language is not at all the simple bindu point towards which the Grenierian high-dive appears aimed. Before he became the second great linguist of the Twentieth Century, Jakobson was himself closely associated with the Russian Futurist poets, especially Khlebnikov and Mayakovsky, an avant-garde literary movement that took its name from its own sense of time.  Anticipating the current generation of cognitive linguistics by some 70 years, Jakobson claimed as early as 1919 that “Static perception is a fiction.” 
Indeed, Jakobson’s essay “Futurism” suggests that what is most important about the Futurists may not simply be the concept of the device or “making it strange,” but rather the new poets’ attack on the idea of simultaneity or of stasis: “the new art has put an end to static forms; it has even put an end to the last fetish of the static: beauty.”  Fully one whole page of this seminal essay’s six is given over to the verbatim quotation of Russian works on the then au courant theory of relativity, arguing by citation that
The concept of time conceals for us something absolute, something completely unrelative. But the new doctrine rejects the absolute character of time, and therefore the existence of “world” time as well. Every identical self-moving system has its own time; the speed of time-flow is not identical in each such system. 
Jakobson of course soon fled Russia, first for Prague where he proved
central in the formation of the Prague School of Linguistics, and later
for New York, where a young Claude Levi-Strauss would hear this fellow
refugee at the New School for Social Research in 1943, an event that
led Jakobson’s original conception of a structural linguistics to
become the full-fledged interdisciplinary movement of structuralism, a
moment, if not movement, to which we are all now allegedly post.
Perhaps it is because we think of Jakobson today as the man who first
formalized Saussure’s initial concepts of language as a system of
differences into an idea of system as such, moving eventually towards
semiotics, that system of systems, that we fail to foreground this
early — and never contradicted — premise that the static itself is, to
use his own words, “a fiction.”
So Grenier’s desire, like that of the early Saroyan or any other practitioner of micropoetics, runs invariably up against its own impossibility, not unlike Olson’s idea of the poetic line as a score of speech, nor for that matter the 19th century realists in their desire for a truly transparent language, nor the more recent desire for a nonreferential language on the part of one subset of what became to be known as language poetry. Regardless of which absolute you might envision for language, you can, if you are rigorous and completely obsessive, get ever so close, but you will never get all the way there. Condensare, however much we might think efficiency in language itself a general value in writing, can never be the literary approximation of an inverse big bang theory, all of language compacting down into an ineffably disappearing sublime. It just won’t work.
Yet historically the poem has been (and will for the foreseeable future continue to be) that genre most capable of completeness in miniature forms. The examples of major fiction writers who could even imagine entire works contained within a single paragraph come down to just Borges and Kafka. As, in another discipline, Wittgenstein demonstrated first in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and then everywhere in his life and work thereafter, you cannot compact the world into seven master sentences. No doubt we shall continue to see for generations to come that received and unthinking assertion of the poem that shows up in so many college and third-rate literary magazine writing contests, declaring that works “may not exceed thirty lines” or whatever, but the poem’s relation to time is a question that can only be posed in time.
Like any speech act, the poetic text has multiple registers of the temporal: the time it takes to read, the time it would take to read aloud (which could be very different), the time chronicled or otherwise referenced in the work itself, and the time of composition are perhaps the most apparent. The time to publication could be of significance, as also might be the work’s relation temporally to other poems by the same writer — Bunting’s “Briggflatts” comes a full 14 years after his last significant poem  — or even within a work, as with the five year pause Zukofsky took after “A” 7, then the eight year hiatus between 1940, when Zukofsky completed both “A” 10 and the first half of “A” 9, and 1948, when he again took up the poem for four years before taking a nine-year break after the completion of “A” 12 in 1951. (Indeed, Zukofsky appears to have spent just 20 years out of 46 in the active composition of his poem, suggesting that for that poem at least the characteristic act of writing was to do nothing. )
Because the published poem is a social ensemble of actions and events that might occur around a specific “speech act,” the poetic text does have more temporal dimensions than the relatively simple ones of tense and referentiality acknowledged by Jakobson.  It is within this complex that the time(s) of the longpoem operate.
In fact, as early as 1928, when he collaborated with Jurij Tynjanov on what Jakobson himself would later describe as a manifesto, Jakobson argues for an understanding of literature conceived, above all else, as a system:
The history of literature (art), being simultaneous with other historical series, is characterized, as is each of these series, by a complex network of specific structural laws. Without an elucidation of these laws, it is impossible to establish in a scientific manner the correlation between the literary series and other historical series. 
Just as the language quoted here leaps out at us now for its dated
proclamation of confidence in “a scientific manner” as applied to the
social, the “specific structural laws” to which Jakobson and Tynjanov
refer include a concept of the literary that would enable a reader to
identify language in a poem as being “literary,” “outmoded,” or “the
latest thing,” for example the inverted and now seemingly stultified
rhetoric of a minor 19th century romantic versus today’s knowing puns
alluding to programming.
Jakobson and Tynjanov’s claim cannot be reduced to a simple assertion that every text carries within it an active, and always changing, relationship not just to that unknowable mass noun, the canon, but to the concept of canonicity itself. For each reader even, one might argue that these ideas operate rather like ships on a dark and choppy sea, perpetually in motion and negotiable. But a system nonetheless. The representation for this I have always liked best is one offered by Robert Duncan for his 1958 Workshop in Basic Techniques:
1) Name ten masterworks (of the order, that is, of The Bible, Das Kapital, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Bleak House, Phaedrus, The Duchess of Malfi, or Harvey’s Motion of the Heart and Blood) which you have never read or which having read you remember nothing of, including on your list as many works as you can that you believe you will never read in your life and starring these. (Do not include more than one work of any particular author.)
2) “Thou art my master and my author,” Dante says to Virgil.
What poet could you name as Dante names Virgil?
3) Choosing one of the two figures below, conceive of yourself as poet (that is, as the spirit of your work) in the position marked with an x; then list as many poets of the tree or constellation of your genius as you can numbering them according to their position in the design.
Of all the models of a possible canon, this questionnaire has always
struck me as being remarkably on target, first of all, for the multiple
ways in which it suggests we might feel
or sense the presence of a canon, including, for example, those works
that will never matter that much personally but which, for whatever
reason, we feel we need to acknowledge. I like also the alternative
graphic representations that Duncan offers precisely because such
spatial configurations recognize the degree to which canonicity
operates non- or at least extra-linguistically, something apprehended, intuited, prior to articulation.
Jakobson’s idea of literature conceived as a system is of particular importance in thinking of the longpoem, one word, because, in direct contrast with at least one vulgar conception of the lyric, the longpoem is never innocent. It can never be originary in the sense of pretending to be direct speech motivated by some surfeit of emotion. This is certainly the case with Pound, who declares as much at the outset of his second canto:
Hang it all, Robert Browning,
there can be but the one “Sordello.”
But Sordello, and my Sordello?
Lo Sordels si fo di Mantovana.
So-shu churned in the sea.
Seal sports in the spray-whited circles of cliff-wash,
Sleek head, daughter of Lir,
eyes of Picasso 
In just eight lines Pound alludes to three poets, each from a
different century, nation and language, one painter (from a fourth
century, nation and language) and a Celtic sea god. Not only is Pound’s
despair that his epic cannot be “the one ‘Sordello’” inscribed almost
at the very beginning of the first true longpoem of 20th Century
English language poetry, but Pound’s frustration is directed toward a
poem written about yet another poet who lived roughly seven hundred
years earlier. “But Sordello, and my Sordello?” captures very well the
problem — neither the Italian troubadour nor Pound’s own conception of
him can be the same as either Browning’s or, and this is the ultimate
rub, Browning’s poem. A second century Chinese poet is mentioned via a
Japanese bastardization of his name. Nothing here is capable of being
seen directly. The punning allusion to the Cubism of Picasso’s eyes is
Pound asserts, and I think he is not far off, that this condition of a poetry of infinite regress is nothing new, when, in what is literally the next sentence of this same canto, we find
.......And poor old Homer blind, blind as a bat
Ear, ear for the sea-surge, murmur of old men’s voices 
Whether one considers the longpoem as party to the classic division
of verse between epic, dramatic and lyric or of Pound’s tripartite
alternative (melopoeia, phanopoeia and logopoeia), or whether in fact
one considers the longpoem as extending a heritage that extends back to
Homer if not further, or simply as one of the three great modernist
poetic forms alongside the dramatic monologue and the prose poem, it
has in one sense always been a mode alive to the “murmur of old men’s
The epic thus may be, as Pound suggests in ABC of Reading, a “poem including history,”  condensare or not, but it — and by extension, perhaps, any longpoem — is also simultaneously a work addressing that same dimension particular to the historic: time.  An excellent test case might be the paired booklength poems written by Clark Coolidge in the early 1970s, The Maintains and Polaroid.  Published at a moment when most poets coming out of the New American Poetry and its pluralistic post-Pound/ Williams tendencies were still debating just how rigorous one ought to be in taking Olson’s equation of the poetic line to a unit of breath, The Maintains brazenly is not speech:
laurel ratio sharp or hard
instrumental triple to or fro
granule in award
one to whom is made
as the near wheel
of all subdue
or bear over as a knot pass
of the part plots
ending in for the most part bolts
as of wholes
come to as risen divides 
Predicated upon a sense of rhythm whose roots are in Coolidge’s
background as a rock and jazz drummer, the line here offers no analogy
to that vague metaphor, voice. Yet the language is not merely a “verbal
hop-scotch...with an inspired centipede”  as one reviewer in the journal Poetry characterized Coolidge’s earlier collection, Flag Flutter & U.S. Electric,
complaining “Clark Coolidge’s poems are virtually without voice.” To
many readers, particularly those at a distance, these two booklength
poems — visibly intentional, major projects demonstrating an ear whose
specificity immediately disproved the sort of off-hand dismissal his
earlier short poems had received — first signaled that major poetry
could be written in what was identifiably a post-New American idiom. 
Yet the language of The Maintains was not accidental. It can hardly be characterized, to return to Robert Sward, my straw man Babbit of a reviewer for Poetry, as “a psychedelic outpouring, a form of automatic writing.”  Rather, as Barrett Watten would note a decade later in Total Syntax, “The line here sets up a point of equivalence.... This work comes out of the dictionary; every line...might be heard as a different definition of one word.”  The dictionary as a mode of literature is the antithesis of automatic writing, that disembodied burbling of the unconscious. The OED simultaneously presents language vertically (all the different denotations of a given word) and historically (the earliest and most important instances of each usage), all of this organized by a scheme of absolute difference, the steady sequential elaborations of the alphabet.
Even as The Maintains and Polaroid avoid models of the spoken, let alone characterization, or of that vulgar index of narrativity, plot, the two books demonstrate time not only in terms of the line as rhythmic units, but through the use of narrative in its deepest sense, as the unfolding of meaning in time. The Maintains gradually trims its language down toward a greater austerity, using fewer and fewer terms that carry with them visual cognitive blends. Consider, for example, how the words current plants, mingles and grain jump out from the book’s final stanza:
might that this which is so mean so to say as even since this’s
though’s so and might such since the more the more
from stop either also done and that even about such
to current plants it might one is yet
very such small
the very so
such a such
lasts even or as means are about the so
said so to say mingles means and maybes
the such’s part close type part the as yet grain one
yet is more close to such’s since a means a like having
a sure so and such an even ever through
a yet even too over part of an even said so through
so’s just about then one more once this 
Polaroid takes this as its starting point, beginning with the
greatest austerity — a kind of linguistic depictive blindness — only
gradually letting terms that connect up to external or referential
schema, while also adding an intermediate level of temporality, the
page as unit. 
Self-conscious of its own difference, the longpoem is thus always the poem designed against innocence. The trope of the spontaneous outburst, the text as emotional overflow of emotion, from the epigram to the sonnet to the lunch poem, is not prohibited per se from the longpoem, but rather shows up as a moment of irony, the same irony in fact that Milton once inscribed into the lyric figure of song in the opening lines of Paradise Lost:
Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
Brought death into the World, and all our woe,
With the loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,
Sing, Heavenly Muse... 
Paradise Lost is “song” in almost exactly the same way as Coolidge’s Polaroid. Both marshal language organized through devices derived from the traditional poetic palette, but with an intention of doing something other than had generally been done before. It is this self-knowledge that always leaps out at us from the longpoem, even in a work such as Kenneth Goldsmith’s No. 111 2.7.93-10.20.96, a 606-page work whose first section begins:
A, a, aar, aas, aer, agh, ah, air, är, are, arh, arre, arrgh, ars, aude, aw, awe, Aye, Ba, ba, baa, baaaahh, baar, bah, bar, bard, bare, barge, Bayer, beer, bere, beurre, bier, bla, blah, Blair, blare, blear, bleh, blur, boar, board, Boer, boor, bore, bored, Boz, bra, bras, Brer, brrrr, bur, burr... 
This self-consciousness of form is perhaps the typical feature of modernism. 
If the dramatic monologue is always aware of the falsity of its alleged
speaker and the prose poem is famously ambivalent concerning its status
as prose and/ or as verse, the longpoem wrestles not just with condensare but its own always visible calculations both of time and of position, of its place on one of those maps Duncan proposed.
One can only imagine how Robert Sward would respond to a text like Goldsmith’s, whose first 99 sections, numbered with roman numerals I through C, take 445 pages (only LXXXI has been “skipped”), while the final 161 pages takes the reader from CII through VMMCCXXVIII.  Goldsmith is a satirist, whose interest in the so-called great books lies primarily in debunking not the works themselves so much as the grim conception of literature that would drape such texts in the worshipful tones of Greatness. But no less than Milton, Pound or Coolidge, Goldsmith’s is a position that can be raised only from within the terrain of such writing. Titling his poems with just a number and a date , Goldsmith proposes a naming convention as far from the self-willed grandiosity of Paradise Lost and Maximus as one might imagine. Yet numbering invariably places works into a sequence, imposing an order of before and after. Dating the poems by compositional duration underscores the implicit organizing role of time, even though in Goldsmith’s case, No. 110 was begun after the start of No. 111 and completed in just three days, compared to the three years, eight months and 13 days it took to compose No. 111.  Stripped of all else, Goldsmith’s titles are nothing other than statements of temporality. Part of Goldsmith’s assault on the sanctity of importance comes exactly from his demonstration that one could write a 606 page poem in less than four years. No. 111, after all, is longer than the first 23 sections of Zukofsky’s “A”, 46 years in the making. That it’s all inventive, quick witted and humorous reinforces the implicit argument that importance is a consequence of presentation, even if many of the individual sections of No. 111 are difficult going even by the standards of Gertrude Stein. It may be imponderable, but it’s never ponderous.
Goldsmith and Grenier represent polar possibilities of the anti-longpoem, one undermining aspects of its tradition, the other seeking a literature that could occur instantaneously, outside of time. For each, however, time represents the ineluctable condition or limit. Rhyme, even in Grenier’s hands, requires reiteration, this and then this again. Time is the prerequisite for form. If the standard less-than-a-page short poem characteristically is uninterested, if not inarticulate, on the subject of time, it is no less implicated. But in Grenier’s microwriting as in the longpoem, the issue comes to the fore.
What remains problematic — and this difficulty is I think part of what animates writers and keeps them (us) hammering at this — is the human conception of time itself. That something as basic to the human condition should be as inchoate as our sense of what constitutes time is endlessly fascinating and suggestive. Cognitive linguistics  has some useful suggestions as to why this might be the case. In Philosophy in The Flesh, linguist George Lakoff and philosopher Mark Johnson, begin by listing what they characterize as “three major findings of cognitive science”:
The mind is inherently embodied.
Thought is mostly unconscious.
Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical. 
To poets since Spicer, if not since the surrealists, if not since
Rimbaud, Lautréamont and Baudelaire, the idea that “thought is mostly
unconscious” will not come as news. But in philosophy, for example, at
least philosophy as a profession extending from the Socratics, this
assertion is still fairly controversial, something better grouped under
the rubric of psychology perhaps, or associated with the more excessive
elements of post-structuralism or even the tracts of East-West homilies
that pass for philosophy in too many bookstores.
More important to an understanding of the temporal dimensions of the longpoem is the claim, which Lakoff and Johnson have been making for years, concerning the metaphoric basis for abstract concepts, specifically including time. Philosophy in the Flesh devotes an entire chapter to time, but for our purpose here what matters is that regardless of time’s ontological status, people experience it primarily through its effects. It comes to us almost never as itself but as speed, duration, recurrence. Time comes to us cloaked as event.
But not all metaphors are equal. Lakoff and Johnson claim that
Most of our understanding of time is a metaphorical version of our understanding of motion in space.
It should be said at the outset that motion in our conceptual systems is not understood in the way as in physics. In physics, time is a more primitive concept than motion and motion is defined as the change of location over time. But cognitively the situation is reversed. Motion appears to be primary and time is metaphorically conceptualized in terms of motion. There is an area in the visual system of our brains dedicated to the detection of motion. There is no such area for the detection of global time. That means that motion is directly perceived and is available for use as a source domain by our metaphor systems. 
Motion in space, which translates to orientation, movement and flow,
sets up what Lakoff and Johnson call “the metaphor system for time.” 
The major metaphoric categories — the idea that the future is in front
of us, the past behind us, and that time moves — all flow from this
same system. 
So it should not surprise us that, if the longpoem is the poem of time, the object of its desire should prove particularly elusive.  Just as one can count anything that occurs more than once and make of this a form, as Grenier does with two strokes of a pen and Goldsmith with his 7,228 syllables of the final section of No. 111, there are as many ways to contemplate time in the longpoem as there exist uses of it, each poem invoking not one but many. The literary critic who has most closely associated form with time, of course, is Mikhail Bakhtin, who began his career as a second generation follower of Shklovsky and Jakobson, those formalist friends of Futurism, and who, managing like Shklovsky to survive the Stalinist regime, was still willing to write that
A literary work’s artistic unity in relationship to an actual reality is defined by its chronotope. 
Chronotope being Bakhtin’s neologism for not just for space-time but
for the interpenetrating insolubility of these two categories.
Bakhtin’s conception of the novel is quirky, to say the least, and the privilege he accords the genre shapes much of what he has to say. For Bakhtin, the social value of the novel lies in that, existing outside of traditional genre (i.e., those social forms that existed prior to the novel), it exposes the system of genres as being precisely that: a system.
The mutual interaction of genres within a single unified literary period is a problem of great interest and importance. In certain periods — the Greek classical period, the Golden Age of Roman literature, the neoclassical period — all genres in “high” literature (that is, the literature of ruling social groups) harmoniously reinforce each other to a significant extent; the whole of literature, conceived as a totality of genres, becomes an organic unity of the highest order. But it is characteristic of the novel that it never enters into this whole, it does not participate in any harmony of the genres. 
For Bakhtin, what characterizes genre above all else are not the surface features of form — he’s willing to call the Socratic dialogs a novel — but temporal orientation:
The chronotope in literature has an inherent generic significance. It can even be said that it is precisely the chronotope that defines genre and generic distinctions, for in literature the primary category in the chronotope is time. The chronotope as a formally constitutive category determines to a significant degree the image of man in literature as well. The image of man is always intrinsically chronotopic. 
The novel, after all, has no canon of its own. It is, by its very nature, not canonic. 
What we discover, if we pick at these definitions just a little, is that by novel, what Bakhtin intends are not necessarily booklength works of prose fiction. The passage above, read in the context of its entire paragraph, reads:
The novelization of literature does not imply attaching to already completed genres a generic cannon that is alien to them, not theirs. The novel, after all, has no canon of its own. It is, by its very nature, not canonic. It is plasticity itself. It is a genre that is ever questing, ever examining itself and subjecting its established forms to review. Such, indeed, is the only possibility open to a genre that structures itself in a zone of direct contact with developing reality. Therefore, the novelization of other genres does not imply their subjection to an alien generic canon; on the contrary, novelization implies their liberation from all that serves as a brake on their unique development, from all that would change them along with the novel into some sort of stylization of forms that have outlived themselves. 
In the Stalinist mid-30s, Bakhtin denies that his category is
“transcendent” in the Kantian sense by declaring instead that it is
“the most immediate reality.” 
But it is apparent reading this paragraph with any care at all that the
novel is what brings time into the world, because, Bakhtin argues, it
is the genre concerned with that most problematic of tenses, the
present. In Bakhtin’s world, it is only the novel that makes possible
the continued evolution of other genres, a disturbance of the “already
completed” on a par with Milton’s “Man’s first disobedience...whose
mortal taste / Brought death into the World.”
For Bakhtin, the novel is a spiritual category, which explains some of the nonsense about other genres (such as the alleged monovocality of poetry) that peppers his mature work. He attempts to extend the role of time downward to the level of linguistics:
(A)ny and every literary image is chronotopic. Language, as a treasure-house of images, is fundamentally chronotopic. Also chronotopic is the internal form of a word, that is, the mediating marker with whose help the root meanings of spatial categories are carried over into temporal relationships (in the broadest sense). 
It’s not so much that Bakhtin confuses elements of metaphor with universals of being as it is his privileging of this one nexus until it overwhelms all other categories. This seems most glaring when he uses the novel as his lens into a genre such as romantic poetry:
Unfortunately, historians of literature usually reduce this struggle between the novel and other already completed genres, all these aspects of novelization, to the actual real-life struggle among “schools” and “trends.” A novelized poem, for example, they call a “romantic poem” (which of course it is) and believe that in so doing they have exhausted the subject. They do not see beneath the superficial hustle and bustle of literary process the major and crucial fates of literature and language, whose great heroes turn out to be first and foremost genres, and whose “trends” and “schools” are but second- or third-rank protagonists. 
Here we see one of the first instances of what, by the 1980s, will
becomes one of academic literary criticism’s most characteristic
failings — the use of theoretical architecture as a means of absolving
the critic from seriously considering actual existing works of writing. 
If one steps back even for a second from the tautological definition of the novel as any text that demonstrates those features Bakhtin wishes to claim for his anti-canonic genre, then it collapses rather completely. But what is more interesting from our perspective is that this very same anxiety of positionality, if not influence exactly, that we find in Duncan’s questionnaire, in Zukofsky’s parodic numbering of lines in his first major work, “Poem beginning ‘The’” , or the not-quite infinite regress of allusion we see in the figure of Pound’s Sordello, is invoked by Bakhtin in the pages that follow the above paragraph, characterizing theoretical statements that accompany novels as diverse as Tom Jones, Agathon and Wilhelm Meister, as constituting “a criticism (from the novel’s point of view) of other genres and of the relationship these genres bear to reality.”  That last phrase is Bakhtin’s own characterization of a chronotope. The first of the major criticisms Bakhtin cites is that “the novel should not be ‘poetic,’ as the word ‘poetic’ is used in other genres of imaginative literature.”  Although he does not say so, the poetic can be thought of as a chronotope not only because it may seem “narrow and unlifelike,” using obsolete grammatical and rhetorical devices, a feature that the so-called New Formalists demonstrate can still prove a strong attraction to contemporary poets, but also because the polysemic character of the poetic sign, its sense of condensare, often incorporates multiple levels or layers of time into even a single word. Thus every conceivable association that a reader might bring to a one-word text such as “torgh,” beginning perhaps with “torque,” “tore,” the suffix — borg and “argh,” carries its own conceptual schema, but also within that schema its own socio-narrative positioning, even as a still-life oil painting of a fruit bowl can be characterized as figurative and narrative.
A text such as The Cantos attempts to extend the density of “torgh” out over hundreds of pages and decades of the poet’s life. Pound’s conscious epic begins by conforming to Bakhtin’s characterization of the genre as concerned with “the absolute past.” Yet after the set-up of the first canto, Pound takes just eight lines of the second to introduce both Browning  and Picasso, and while the work from that point forward will often focus (indeed, fixate) on the past, it continually brings in enough of the present so that when, with the Pisan Cantos, the poem opens with a scene of the lynching of Mussolini and proceeds directly into some of the most brilliant lyric/ elegiac poetry ever written in the English language, it is not entirely unprecedented. But a palpable shift occurs: it is the immediate present of the traitor’s cage in the mud and the recurrent figures of his fellow prisoners that organizes the referential temporalities of the text. Thus, some twenty years later, where we find, literally, on the next-to-last page of canto CXVI, “Disney against the metaphysicals,”  it is the poem itself, conceived as both ongoing and already complete in that it has (in Pound’s estimation at least) already been judged a failure, regardless of the poet’s motives, that is the subject of Drafts and Fragments. The narrative structure of The Cantos can be characterized as a change in tense. That this should be the fate of a poem savvy enough about its own temporalities begin with a conjunction, “And” (implicit hinge that joins any two poems by the same poet), should be no surprise. But to call this the novelization of the epic, as Bakhtin no doubt would, makes no more sense ultimately than it would to call Homer’s shadow text behind Joyce’s Ulysses the poeticization of the novel. 
The same multiplication of contextual time frames occurs on the very first page of Zukofsky’s “A,” shuttling as it does between the Bible, the work of Bach and a specific concert on April 5, 1928. But a more important shift takes place in “A” at the level of the textual surface itself. If Pound’s readers often complained that his polyglot poem was dense to the point of obscure, Zukofsky — at least from “A”-9 forward — presumes that the words of the text are inherently material, and that this opacity is a fundamental fact of the signifier, so that such physicality is not merely an ancillary sensual benefit of the poem. If The Cantos are a text perpetually in search of a gloss, “A” doesn’t care. Rather, one must begin with first with the words, proceeding wherever they might lead but without anything like the anxiety of elucidation that is an integral element of reading Pound. In this, Zukfosky follows the lead of Stein.  Thus a sympathetic Hugh Kenner can write “Your impression may well be that if “A”-11 would go by more slowly you could follow it.”  Kenner, the archetypal glosser, makes a valiant effort:
Reading in the normal sense — collecting a sequential meaning — is all but out of the question, so impacted are the formalities and the syntax. The first impulse is simply to listen, as to violin music, while intricate recurrences sound and tease. 
As to violin music: the sense of the poem is only available understood as a signifier and experienced directly in time. While Kenner attempts a close reading, he concedes (and for him this is a concession):
Intent on their private understandings, the poem need not seek excuse for its closed quality, for its habit of curving away from readers of the book. The late mediaeval metaphysicians of love voiced a bravado of hermeticism, the song comprehensible (it asserted) only by men fit to comprehend it. “A”-11 is more tactful. If we do not comprehend, it is not that our understandings are more fit; it is merely that we are not of the family, and are overhearing family conversation. 
Zukfosky does two other things in “A” that I want to call attention to here. First, from “A”-9
onward, each section presents a palpably different form, giving it an
internal integrity that lends the section a very different weight with
regards to its role in relation to the poem as a whole. While certainly
this is not the only way to pursue the longpoem, it represents the
first substantive deviation from the Poundian model in which every
section deploys the same palette of devices. It’s a strategy that
enables Zukofsky to insert works in position but out of compositional sequence. “A” escapes a tyranny of the chronological that never, for example, lets go of Duncan’s “Passages.”
The second is that, in Celia Zukofsky’s use of Louis’ prior texts for her composition of “A”-24, she demonstrates how the same material might appear across time as well as in a new setting. This device is at the heart of at least the second version of Lyn Hejinian’s My Life, my own use of Ketjak as the foundation of the K section of The Alphabet, which I call folding after Rachel Blau DuPlessis’ use of that device in her longpoem Drafts — a title whose Poundian allusion demonstrates my thesis of positionality exactly — starting with “Draft 20: Incipit.” Here, in these instances, we find a new kind of time that may be implicit in The Cantos and even, if one wishes to push it a little, in the later version of Wordsworth’s Prelude, but which only now rises to the level of consciousness as a theme within texts.
Finally, there is one last mode of time I want to cite in the longpoem, although, in fact, it’s one that can be found in the work of many other kinds of poets as well, once you begin to recognize the phenomenon. Entropy is not the fate of all writers, but it does occur in a variety of ways in the poetry of many. Pound’s gaps in the later cantos, for example, like those in work of Zukofsky. The last 20 years accounted for a mere fraction of what the first 20 had. Charles Boer and George Butterick patching together Maximus: Volume Three. Duncan giving up numbering individual sections of Passages after 37 (there is no 36!). 
This is not so terribly different from the decline in production that occurred in the last few years of the lives of Frank O’Hara and Ted Berrigan, or even — a more extreme model — Laura Riding and Arthur Rimbaud. In the longpoem, such entropy can become a formal element of the text itself. Which is to say that an aspect of the poet’s life becomes integral to the composition of the poem. At one level, no doubt, we could say that everything in a poet’s life becomes integral to the composition of the poem, whatever the form or genre. But again, it is only in the longpoem that we as readers are apt to actually recognize it. This might even be the case for poets as well.
I think it would be possible, in a longer piece than this, to construct an argument that most authors who have focused on the long poem have, so to speak, “issues” with time itself. Certainly this description of Pound, and the late Pound at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital at that, on Olson’s part resonates with deep aspects of my own experience:
Time is in his conversation more of than anything else. I said to Lowell the other night: “There is a haste in Pound, but it does not seem to be rushing to any future or away from any past.” It is mere impatience, the nerves turning like a wild speed-machine (it is how he got his work done) and, more important, an intolerance of the mind’s speed (fast as he goes), an intolerance even of himself. For he is not as vain as he acts. “30 yrs, 30 yrs behind the time” — you hear it from him, over and over. It is his measure (and his rod) for all work, and men. His mind bursts from the lags he sees around him. 
I think also that, without getting cutsie and citing the likes of Godfrey Reggio’s film, Koyaanisqatsi,
a reasonable person can construct an argument that time has a
particularly charged ensemble of social functions and meanings that
have only grown in their importance since the rise of industrial
society two hundred years ago. In an age that could coin the phrase
“internet time,” the longpoem stands both as an intervention and an
investigation. But that’s another paper for another time.
 Collected Prose, edited by Donald Allen and Benjamin Friedlander, with an introduction by Robert Creeley (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 174.
 A graphic representation of the relationship between The Alphabet and Ketjak can be found in vol. 29 of the Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, edited by Joyce Nakamura (Detroit: Gale Research, 1998), p. 317. A cruder version of the same chart is more popularly available in Quarry West 34: Ron Silliman and the A•L•P•H•A•B•E•T, edited by Tom Vogler (Santa Cruz, 1996), p. 6. A copy of the first page of the manuscript of Ketjak, including the date, is reproduced on p. 45.
 Brian Kim Stephens, in creating computer programs that have allowed him to generate book-length texts in a single afternoon, demonstrates exactly this point.
 That tradition, a subjective and completely personal canon specific to me, would in the mid-1970s have included the works of Homer, Dante, the Beowulf poet, Chaucer, Milton, Blake, Wordsworth’s The Prelude, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Pound’s Cantos, Zukofsky’s “A,” Hart Crane’s The Bridge, Williams’ Paterson, Olson’s Maximus Poems, certain pieces by Allen Ginsberg (especially Wichita Vortex Sutra), David Jones’ The Anathemata, H.D.’s Trilogy, Robert Duncan’s “Passages,” the serial books written by Jack Spicer, Kenneth Koch’s marvelous early work When the Sun Tries to Go On, George Oppen’s Of Being Numerous, Robert Creeley’s Pieces, John Ashbery’s Three Poems, Ed Dorn’s North Atlantic Turbine Poem and Gunslinger, and Ronald Johnson’s Book of the Green Man and Radi Os. There were other poets visible and publishing at that moment whose work itself also suggested an impulse toward, if not all the way to, the longpoem. The heavily Olson-influenced writing of Robert Kelly, George Quasha and Clayton Eshleman, Paul Blackburn’s Journals5, Ted Enslin’s interminable variations and extensions of the short line in Ranger and other works, the extraordinary dailyness at the heart of the writing of Phil Whalen, Ted Berrigan’s Bean Spasms, or Frank Stanford’s the battlefield where the moon says I love you, a startlingly surrealist 542-page text — the new Lost Roads reissue recasts it at a “mere” 383 — written at least in part while Stanford was still in his teens. Tom Meyer, a poet my own age who evolved into a writer of short lyrics, had himself in college at Bard (studying with Kelly) written a nearly thousand page piece entitled A Technographic Typography, of which only a few snippets ever were published in little magazines, and finally the first booklength works by Clark Coolidge, Polaroid and The Maintains. It was also evident even then that there were long poetic texts that I, at least, did not find to have anything of value to contribute to my sense of this larger tradition — A. R. Ammons’ Tape of the Turn of the Year, Donald Finkel’s Adequate Earth, and John Berryman’s Dream Songs would all be examples — as well as works of fiction, include Melville’s Moby Dick, Joyce’s Ulysses, several of the novels of Jack Kerouac, especially Visions of Cody, that had some still inarticulate relationship to this category as it washed around rather like a lava lamp in my brain. Similarly, even then, the writing of Gertrude Stein, which was only just beginning to come back into print in the early1970s, challenged many of the assumptions of genre, tradition and meaning in the poem.
 Email, February 2, 1999.
 ABC of Reading (New York: New Directions, 1960), p. 36.
 “Preface to Lyrical Ballads,” in Selected Poems and Prefaces, edited by Jack Stillinger (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Riverside Editions, 1965), p. 460.
 Which some could claim justifiably may not have been a value of Sappho’s own poetry so much as of the incomplete state in which it has been preserved.
 In Pages, (New York: Random House, 1969), unpaginated!
 In “On Speech,” This 1, edited by Grenier and Barrett Watten, (Gloucester, MA & Iowa City: 1971), no pagination. Bold face in the original.
 Op. cit., www.concentric.net/~lndb/grenier/lgrena06.htm
 It’s worth noting here how much more effective Grenier’s strategy is than, say, that posed by Joyce Holland in her/his Alphabet Anthology, containing poems of no more than one letter. Grenier’s minimalism, however, is often countered by an impulse to work in series, up to and including the famous “box,” Sentences, 500 cards of short texts in shufflable sequence.
 Or beyond. Even the pixel, if you at it closely enough, is comprised of red, green and blue stripes that some programs, such as Microsoft Cleartype, already manipulate via subpixel positioning for greater sharpness of line and image.
 Those instances where one grasps what is being said, even at the level of phoneme, before the speaker has arrived at the middle of a syllable are themselves worth noting, precisely because of what they can tell us about the role(s) of expectation and projection in cognitive blending and comprehension. This occurs within every linguistic unit, from the phoneme out to the master narrative itself. Indeed, most Hollywood movies could end a half hour earlier than they presently do (eliminating the final chase and escape tropes) precisely because we all do always already know just exactly what is going to happen.
 See, for example, the diagram on p. 16 in Jakobson’s On Language, edited by Linda R. Waugh and Monique Monville-Burston (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990), hereafter cited as OL, or Waugh’s list in “The Poetic Function in the Theory of Roman Jakobson,” in Poetics Today, Vol. 2, No. 1a, Autumn, 1980, p. 57, or my own adaptation in “Towards Prose” in The New Sentence (New York: Roof Books, 1987). Note that I substitute here, as I have done before, signifier and signified for Jakobson’s less adequate terms, message and context.
 The late Paul Schmidt went so far as to title one collection of his translations of Khlebnikov The King of Time, including the poet’s rather opaque notations toward a study of the laws thereof.
 Paraphrased in “The Time Factor in Language,” a conversation with Krystyna Pomorska, OL 165. The original article can be found as “Futurism,” in Language in Literature (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987), pp. 28-33, hereafter cited as LIL.
 LIL 30.
 LIL 31.
 He had, it seems, composed the first piece in “The Second Book of Odes” before at least completing “Briggflatts.”
 It also seems legitimate to ask if the “A” 22 and 23, taken by many poets to be the finest movements in Zukofsky’s work, would even have been written had not Celia given him the gift of “A” 24 in 1968, two years before he started in on the final pair.
 See “Shifters and Verbal Categories” in OL 386-392.
 In “Problems in the Study of Language and Literature,” LIL 47.
 In The Collected Books of Jack Spicer, edited by Robin Blaser (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow, 1975), p. 358.
 The Cantos (1-95), Ezra Pound (New York: New Directions, 1956), p. 6.
 Ibid. Homer was also, not coincidentally, the name of Pound’s father.
 Op. cit., p. 46.
 It is in precisely this aspect that we can best appreciate the relationship to the longpoem of Joyce’s last two novels, one set over 18 hours of a single day intensively examined, the other a cycle of discourse that ends midsentence precisely where it begins.
 (San Francisco: This Press, 1974) and (New York/Bolinas: Adventures in Poetry/Big Sky, 1975) respectively.
 “Landscape and Language,” by Robert Sward in Poetry, vol. 109, no. 6, March 1967, p. 410.
 Even as Polaroid had been published collaboratively by two second-generation New York School presses.
 “Russian Formalism & the Present,” (Carbondale and Edwardsville, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985), p. 19.
 Op. cit, p. 98.
 In this sense, Polaroid could be characterized as a 100-page serial poem whose sections are enumerated at the point of the page (always in the upper right corner, rather than the opposing outer corners, which I read as a give-away that this typographic feature is intended by Coolidge).
 Paradise Lost and Selected Poetry and Prose, edited with an introduction by Northrop Frye (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1951), p. 5.
 (Great Barrington, MA: The Figures, 1997), p. 1.
 If so, one would date the start of modernism in English from the “Preface” to Lyrical Ballads, which predates Baudelaire’s discussion of the prose poem in his preface to Paris Spleen by more than half a century.
 Revealing that what is being counted by the numerals of what is basically a list poem are the numbers of syllables in the primary unit of each section. “VMMCCXXVIII” is a short story 7,228 syllables long, while the section immediately prior is a long goofy poem exactly one syllable shorter in which, at the end, most vowels are replaced by graphically similar numbers: A = 4, E = 3, I = 1, O = 0. U is excluded from this scheme, perhaps because it doesn’t look like anything else.
 Some of his other books include 73 Poems (with Joan La Barbara), No. 105; No. 110 10.4.93-10.7.93 and Soliloquy (No. 116 4.15.96-4.21.96).
 It also suggests what I take to be something of a false air of the organic. In actuality, Goldsmith gathered words, phrases, stories during this period, grouping them by number of syllables as he went along. With sections such as “I,” he appears to have alphabetized the collections as the end-point of his writing process.
 From which, seventeen years ago, I first borrowed the concept of the parsimony principle (cf. “Migratory Meaning” in The New Sentence (New York: Roof, 1987), pp. 109-124, especially pp. 112-116.
 (New York: Basic Books, 1999), p. 3.
 Pp. 139-40.
 Lakoff and Johnson are cautious in their claims for the universality of this metaphoric system, but audacious enough to invoke as their one example of a time metaphor cluster in another language its use in Hopi, a language that Benjamin Lee Whorf once claimed lacked both metaphors and a concept of time. (Cf. p. 150-1.)
 Not that such slipperiness is limited only to the longpoem and/or its critics. Walter Benjamin stumbles on just this issue in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” failing to fully confront the differential quality of time between the photograph’s image and that of its ongoing presence or, in Benjamin’s terms, its “exhibition value.” When he cites Atget as the founder of photography as an art, it is because Atget’s empty streets have no people, and thus have distanced themselves from the “cult value,” that fundamental component behind what had been the “aura” of the art work, which, Benjamin claims, has fled into “an ultimate retrenchment...a last refuge” in the portrait. In focusing on the presence or absence of the human in the representational photograph, Benjamin fails to recognize that a major – if not the major – message of any representational photograph and a great deal of the abstract and/or conceptual ones as well is its nearness or farness from the viewer in time. Thus a documentary image, such as Robert Jackson’s 1963 tableaux of the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby, becomes in a matter of decades a portrait of a world to which we can never return. This, however, is also true of the modernist photograms of Man Ray.
 In “Forms of Time and Chronotope in the Novel,” The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, edited by Michael Holquist; translated by Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), p. 243. The final section of this essay, which this passage inaugurates, was composed in 1973, 35 years after its earlier sections.
 “Epic and Novel,” in The Dialogic Imagination, p. 4.
 “Forms of Time,” pp. 84-5.
 “Epic and Novel,” p. 39.
 Ibid. Emphasis added.
 “Forms of Time,” p. 85n.
 “Forms of Time,” p. 251.
 “Epic and Novel,” pp. 8-9.
 Bakhtin simply drops a fifth of Garganua and Pantagruel from his argument on the grounds that it doesn’t fit his analysis. (Cf. “Forms of Time,” p. 167.)
 I wouldn’t call “Poem beginning ‘The’” a longpoem by any means, but I do believe that it unmistakably shows the hand of someone who would go onto write such a work. This sense of its own historicity is in fact one such clue. For example, it begins with footnotes and then proceeds to an epigram, unattributed, “And out of olde books, in good feith.”)
 Op. cit., p. 10. Interestingly, Bakhtin does not refer to the “Preface to Lyrical Ballads” which makes many of the same complaints about prior literatures not, however, from the perspective of the novel, but rather from within the poem itself.
 Ibid. The others are the “hero” should not be heroic; that the hero should not be presented as an already completed person no longer subject to change; and that “the novel should become for the contemporary world what the epic was for the ancient world....”
 Almost as much a contemporary poet when Pound first sketched out the second canto as Pound himself is to readers on the cusp of a new millennium.
 Drafts & Fragments of Cantos CX-CXVII (New York: New Directions, 1968), p. 26.
 Nor likewise the recurring cyclical time that is the organizing periodization for Finnegans Wake.
 Though there is no evidence that Zukofsky himself saw this. Stein does not appear in A Test of Poetry, nor Zukofsky’s collection of essays, Prepositions, and is mentioned only in passing in the correspondence with Pound. The sole significant citation is a two-page excerpt from Picasso, London that appears in Bottom: On Shakespeare (Austin: University of Texas, 1963, Vol. 1, pp. 261-2) that discusses Picasso’s vision: “His drawings were not of things seen but of things expressed, in short they were words for him and drawing always was his only way of talking.” Yet Celia’s settings of her husband’s texts would hardly have been possible had not Virgil Thompson already done likewise for the work of Stein.
 “Too Full for Talk: ‘A’-11” in Maps 5: Louis Zukofsky, edited by John Taggart, Shippensburg, PA, 1973, p. 12.
 Ibid., p.15.
 Ibid., p. 21.
 Paradoxically, “Passages” 35 immediately precedes the most time-obsessed of all of Duncan’s poems, “Santa Cruz Propositions,” in which he dates, sometimes down to the hour, individual stanzas.
 “GrandPa, GoodBye,” in Collected Prose, edited by Donald Allen and Benjamin Friedlander (Berkeley: University of California, 1997), p. 145.
Ron Silliman, 1998, copyright Jeff Hurwitz
Ron Silliman is the author of Xing, N/O, Demo to Ink,, Manifest, and Tjanting. He has been working on ‘The Alphabet’, a proposed 1,200-page work, for the last two decades. He studied at University of California, Berkeley, Merrit College, and San Francisco State University between 1966 and 1971 and has been awarded fellowships by the National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Council.
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