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Peter Middleton

The Longing of the Long Poem


Modernist long poems resist the support institutions of poetry. Expensive to print; tricky to handle digitally; too long to be read in their entirety at poetry readings; too big for anthologies; much too big for little magazines to be able to publish anything but short sections; almost always too long to teach within the constraints of a timetable; exorbitantly demanding of a reader’s time; and sometimes barely readable until extended scholarly labours have provided guides and critical readings. And yet the long poem continues to represent the peak of poetic achievement just as early epics did. What accounts for the persistence of the modern long poem given its apparent drawbacks? To try to answer this question we would need to gain some idea of what makes for a long poem and one place to start is with endings.


Most long poems end badly. Writers of long poems may wish they could say, like Hugh MacDiarmid at the end of ‘In Memoriam James Joyce,’ ‘And so I come to the end of this poem’, but for reasons internal to the working of the composition the end is more usually an awkward, offhand parting, and suprisingly inarticulate compared to what has gone before. [1] The conclusive wrap of Wallace Stevens’s ‘Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction’ — ‘You will have stopped revolving except in crystal’ — is the exception, perhaps because ‘Notes’ is short for a long poem, and even then it spoils the perfection of its finale by adding an apologetic afterthought, justifying poetry in the face of social crisis with an implausible image of ‘the soldier’ living or dying with ‘proper words.’ [2] The Cantos also has two endings, both unsatisfactory. The penultimate quasi-ending is given the unpromising provisional title ‘Notes for CXVII et seq.’ and finishes with an orphaned line — ‘To be men not destroyers’ — a worthy enough sentiment, similar in spirit to Stevens’s second ending, but not a compelling resolution to either the canto or the entire long poem. [3] Following this ending is a short piece entitled ‘Fragment (1966)’, a brief celebration of Olga Rudge, that concludes: ‘These lines are for the / ultimate CANTO // whatever I may write / in the interim.’ The ultimate Canto — what a wonderful idea! Zukofsky’s “A” also has two endings: ‘A 23’ ends with a suitably self-reflexive line — ‘z-sited path are but us’; and its effect is then immediately swept aside by Celia Zukofsky’s mash-up of Zukofsky’s own writings, A 24, which itself ends in bathos, with two overlaid voices saying ‘New gloves, mother?’, and ‘I wonder that makes thee so loved /’. [4] The Maximus Poems also has two endings whose combined effect after the vast intellectual claims made for the poet’s heroic researches into Gloucester and the founding of America, is at best pathos : ‘Mother   Earth   Alone,’ and then on a separate page, ‘My wife   my car   my color   and myself’ (a pathos verging on bathos when he alludes to the loss of his car). [5] However exhausted the poet and the form, these poems don’t want to end. They long for more.


More recent long poems are wary of anything that might hint at a gesture like MacDiarmid’s, let alone leave the reader with a crystalline QED, and so end with as little conclusivity as possible. The dominant impression is that the poem could have been even longer. Ron Silliman’s Tjanting ends: ‘What then?’. Allen Fisher’s extremely long poem ‘Gravity as a Consequence of Shape’ ends: ‘prospect of the feeling that should be left / been protected for its inaccessability.’ Lyn Hejinian’s A Border Comedy ends: ‘And the teller’s intention — believe it or not / Is fortune given / Living always.’ The ending of Bruce Andrews’s Lip Service — ‘let’s start all over stars’ — conveys the general spirit of these endings. [6]


If you tell me a novel or a film is long, I know you mean long for a novel or long for a film, and that their actual respective lengths are likely to be of different orders of magnitude, and I also know that you are not referring to the number of pages or the length of the reel of film, although these might be indicative of what you are measuring, which is relative duration of the time required for reception of either (with this in mind I measure the Cantos as about 116 metres long, compared with Tjanting at only 38 metres.). A long sentence like the previous one only takes seconds to read; a long film might mean sitting for longer than is comfortable but the likelihood is that you would watch it in one sitting in a cinema; and a long novel (think of Proust or Joyce) is likely to take weeks rather than days, and to be fitted around other activities. Proust’s brother is reported to have said: ‘the sad thing is that people have to be very ill or have broken a leg in order to have the opportunity to read In Search of Lost Time.’ [7] What does it take to read the Cantos, and other Very Long Poems (VLPs) such as The Maximus Poems, In Memoriam James Joyce, A Border Comedy, Flow Chart, Eunoia, Gravity as a Consequence of Shape, or Day? A bout of flu, a vacation at the beach, a grant for research leave, or just a lot of free evenings?


What might it require to read Kenneth Goldsmith’s Day, one of the most controversial recent VLPs? Molly Schwartzberg is honest: ‘Stephen Cain says what many likely think: that in Day, “the gesture is perhaps more enjoyable as a concept than as a reading experience.”’ She demurs in an interesting extended reflection on the experience of reading Day in which she equates the long poem with difficulty and boredom, qualities that she transvalues:


I find Day to be utterly compelling, but not for the reasons I expected to when I first received my copy. When I first opened it, I assumed that all my years of reading contemporary poetry that is densely linguistic, often affectless, and frequently long, would help me; we readers of contemporary poetic practice know hard reading, we know intentional boredom. But it turns out that it’s not my avant-garde training that came in handy. My own willingness/drive/capacity to read all of Goldsmith’s books straight through has at least as much to do with my traditional literary background; as I reread the books this spring, I was most helped by just having finished a year of teaching a “Great Books” curriculum. After nine months of classics like Inferno, Don Quixote, Capital and The Plague, Goldsmith’s books are familiar — both in their physical size, and in the kind of sustained attention — concentration upon multiple layers of plot, language, and argument over hundreds of pages — that they require. Certainly my eyes glazed over as I worked through Day’s stock quotes, but not much more than they did as I attempted to follow the denser bits of Marx’s complex economic theories. A number of critics have noted that Goldsmith’s books have the heft of reference books. But when I look on my own bookshelves, I see that they are closer in size to my copies of Magic Mountain, Moby Dick, and Remembrance of Things Past. [8]


We might note that Goldsmith himself is aware of the problems of the reader, and warns drily that ‘there is no reason to suppose, however, that the conceptual writer is out to bore the reader.’ [9] Schwartzberg captures one of the key features of the experience of reading the long poem, the saturation of the reader’s cognitive space with an abstract repetitive form whose content is an ever varying semantic field. As Andrea Brady says of Raworth’s long poems, ‘the long sequences also test our ability to hold the poem’s apparently limitless relational capabilities in our head.’ [10] Managing limitless relations has been understood to be a self-conscious feature of the modern novel at least since Henry James, who wrote in the preface to Roderick Hudson: ‘Really, universally, relations stop nowhere, and the exquisite problem of the artist is eternally but to draw, by a geometry of his own, the circle within which they shall happily appear to do so.’ [11] One can almost hear the invitation to later writers to experiment by extending the circle until unhappiness appears.


What significance does the adjective ‘long’ carry when we talk about the long poem? Is it literal or metaphorical, or a more or less implicit proper name (a disavowed categorisation that really means ‘modernist’ or ‘world-encompassing’); and whichever of these best describes the work of this measure, is it then a value (never mind the length feel the quality), or a category (a capacious genre perhaps subsuming epics, narratives, sequences, and oulipian behemoths), or a metonym for some extended poetic theory (having semantic parallels with the adjectives in terms such as ‘action painting’ or ‘minimalist music’, adjectives whose everyday usage is only an oblique guide to these aesthetic practices)? Or maybe scale does directly result in aesthetic consequence, so that the long poem is as it were orchestral to the chamber scale of the lyric poem? Only a VLP will keep the warriors occupied during the feasting; or to translate this into contemporary idioms, only a VLP can be apotropaic towards the dangers of subject-based, expressive, or confessional verse.


It turns out that the short poem, the lyric, also has definitional issues. The January 2008 issue of PMLA reveals a widespread concern about the inadequacy of our concepts and definitions of the lyric. Jonathan Culler reminds us that Rene Wellek once wrote that it is impossible to define the lyric because ‘nothing beyond generalities of the tritest kind can result from it.’ [12] Does the same fate await anyone attempting to define the long poem? Might we find ourselves merely describing a normative cultural ideal as Virginia Jackson warns: ‘When the stipulative functions of particular genres are collapsed into one big idea of poems as lyrics, then the only function poems can perform in our culture is to become individual or communal ideals.’ [13]


In the same issue, Robert Kaufman offers a reading of Benjamin and Adorno on lyric poetry, in which he argues that the use of language in lyric poetry enables it ‘to subjectivize it, affectively to stretch conceptuality’s bounds in order to make something that seems formally like a concept but that does something that ordinary, “objective” concepts generally do not do: sing’. [14] Accepting for a moment the insight based on Adorno’s essay on lyric, what by analogy might the long poem be doing? Could we argue that the modern long poem makes the extended discursivity of written modes such as argument and narrative (as myth, story or history), sing too? Does ‘language’s chimerical yearning for the impossible’ that Adorno hears in Stefan George have a counterpart longing in long poems? If, as Adorno believes, the ‘lyric poem is always the subjective expression of a social antagonism’ (45) and ‘in the lyric poem the subject, through its identification with language negates both its opposition to society as something merely monadological and its mere functioning within a wholly socialized society’(44), what happens in the long poem? Where, we might say, does the subject go? Who or what is doing the singing?


Lyric poems are not usually called ‘short poems.’ The two literary genres most commonly defined by their length are the short story and the long poem, and in both cases the adjectival measure appears to indicate that this is only a genre in the sense that some texts fail to qualify for inclusion in the properly constituted genres of the novel and the lyric. Brevity prevents the short story from achieving the narrative scale necessary to achieve the exit velocity of a novel; excessive length prevents the long poem from sustaining the lyric intensity of a short poem (and hence achieving those very different special possibilities that Adorno — and Edgar Allen Poe — espoused in the lyric). Long poems, apart from epics, which are arguably a historical form only practised in partially oral cultures, are like short stories, excess to requirements, a wilderness of weeds outside the garden, a heterogeneous field that does not lend itself to definition, and frequently take advantage of this absence of expectation of any defining characteristic, whether through unconventional prosody, theme, structure, form of address, performativity, or visual appearance.


Is this the point, that the interest of the long poem lies in its visible display of non-conformity because there are no rules comparable to those for sonnets, lyrics, ballads, quatrains and sestinas? Are long poems wild poems that transcend precedent and convention, and are not condemned to repeat history? In the PMLA collection, Rei Terada cautions against this type of enthusiasm as far as the lyric is concerned: ‘although the critique of lyric is necessary as long as we need to be convinced that its construction has been a problem, we may be past that moment in lyric studies — at a point at which, no longer approaching lyric ontologically or defensively, we should be able to do something besides talk about how other people believe in its ontology.’ [15] Is the same true of long poem studies? Can we talk about something other than the ontology or cultural ideals of the long poem?


If anything can happen in a long poem, reading may require induction into the peculiar practices of a specific long poem. ‘Begin ephebe, by perceiving the idea / Of this invention, this invented world’, as Stevens starts his own long poem, Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction. Perhaps we are all ephebes when we start reading an unfamiliar long poem; certainly the close kinship between long poems and the academy might suggest this. It can be hard work to gain our credentials as a competent reader, which points to a wider issue, the question of just what VLPs require as their conditions of existence.


To understand the importance of considering the entire context of creation and reception of long poems it is helpful to compare long poems to toasters. Harvey Molotch, the great sociologist of consumer goods, uses the toaster as an example of what he calls ‘stuff’, this ‘vast blanket of things — coffeepots and laptops, window fittings, lamps and fence finials, cars, hat pins, and hand trucks — that make up economies, mobilize desire, and so stir controversy.’ [16] Where do these things that people long for come from? A popular toaster requires a whole range of favourable conditions to converge in order for its chrome, pop-up, adjustable size slots, to win customers. People need to have beliefs about nutrition, readily available electricity, spending money, squares of bread that will fit the slots, breakfast habits, distributors who believe they can make a profit, manufacturers with the machines and raw materials for production, a technology that has reached a certain stage of development, and designers who can create forms that fit current fashions. As Molotch sums it up: ‘there is a global system that yields a toaster’s raw materials, governments that protect its patents, a labor force to work at the right price, and a dump ready to absorb it in the end.’(1)


To excite longing, the toaster also needs to have some mystery about it (56), a sense that the buyer cannot quite explain, and therefore explain away, the response it elicits. Modernism can make goods highly desirable, making designer chairs and glamorous coffee pots sought after for their modernist design credentials, whose implicit promise is of practicality and functionality, though as Molotch hardly needs to point out, in many cases this practicality is merely apparent. Goods such as toasters ‘provide a basis, in a number of different ways including their use, for there to be a sense of social reality. They help us be sane’ (13) (one is reminded of the advertisement for ‘Ubik’ — ‘‘I came over to Ubik after trying weak, out-of-date reality supports’ — in Philip K. Dick’s novel of that name). [17] Owning a toaster plugs its owner into a sense of community. What global system does a long poem require, what sort of mystery does it project, and how does its reading create community? Does it also affirm (or negate) social reality by being a long poem, and does it keep us sane? If we read Schwartzberg as a test subject for the use of Goldsmith’s long poem we might conclude that it does affirm social reality (it joins the shelf of great books on which our civilisation rests) and it keeps her sane (through the reassuring and grounding experience of boredom as much as intellectually validating parallels with Marx).


If we ask ourselves what a long poem needs to sustain itself, we are first of all struck by the fairly exorbitant costs entailed: readers who have had an extensive education and also have extensive leisure time; prolonged attention from editors, difficult proof-reading, and expert printers; costly material production. This exorbitance of the VLP helps explain one of the most striking features of the structure of the modernist long poem, its seriality as employed by Pound, Zukofsky, Olson, and many others, because the staple of modern poetry publishing is the little magazine, which by its nature can only accept relatively short works. Seriality then becomes the basis of the revisionary, allusive structures of many of these VLPs. Mainstream publishing houses rarely publish the first versions of such texts; when they do appear first in book form they are almost always published by small presses that have been heavily subsidised for that specific publication. This tells us something about readerships for VLPs today.


George Eliot complained in a letter in 1870 of the reverse problem: ‘the English worship of quantity does not allow the separate publication of 800 lines, after the fashion of America (for example, Lowell’s “Cathedral”)’ (Maybe we will revert to the Victorian situation as faster processors and higher internet bandwith make possible internet publication of longer and longer poems, though the problem of readers will remain). Long poems need to offer cultural capital for readers to be willing to invest their time, as well as the mystery and entertainment that Molotch mentions, and not surprisingly, many long poems of the past half century have offered reader rewards in the form of supposedly transferable wisdom statements, and regular jolts of humour, in addition to the verbal brilliance, conceptual originality, or emotional intensity that are assumed to be integral to all poetry.


If I seem to be covertly insulting the long poem by comparing it to an ephemeral consumer good, consider what Basil Bunting said about Ezra Pound’s Cantos, sentiments that can be replicated for many long poems, which seem especially prone to attract vituperation:


There are the Alps. What is there to say about them?
They don’t make sense. Fatal glaciers, crags cranks climb,
jumbled boulder and weed, pasture and boulder, scree,
et l’on entend, maybe, le refrain joyeux et leger.
Who knows what the ice will have scraped on the rock it is smoothing?
There they are, you will have to go a long way round
if you want to avoid them.
It takes some getting used to. There are the Alps,
fools! Sit down and wait for them to crumble! [18]


Bunting’s poem is usually taken to be a characteristically surly, prickly, and possibly jealous tribute to the poem’s greatness. No doubt. But listen to the implications of what he is saying, because on the issue of what characterises a VLP he is in accord with other poets and critics. The Cantos are mountainous obstacles in the literary landscape that have to be climbed if you wish to reach your destination, and could only be circumvented with enormous labour (what sort of imaginative labour would this be?), and despite the sardonic assertion that ‘they don’t make sense’, and they may prove in some metaphorical way ‘fatal’ to the reader, their rocky vastness deserves a humbling recognition from other poets and readers. They are partly unintelligible, very hard to read, and put one’s subjectivity at risk.


David Wright makes a similar point in less rhetorical terms in his introduction to the interesting Penguin anthology, Longer Contemporary Poems (1966), where having stated that the Cantos (along with The Waste Land, In Memoriam James Joyce, The Anathemata, and Paterson) ‘are the major poetic efforts of our era, deliberately conceived as such’, and referring to a TLS reviewer saying that ‘the long poem haunts the age’, Wright contends that there are other fine long twentieth-century poems ‘which do not take a deep breath and set out to be its magnum opus.’ In addition to such doubts about whether the encyclopaedic wide surveys of contemporary life attempted by these poems are possible, others doubt whether the supposed advantages of length — possibilities of complex structure, immersive intensity, attention to complexity, and intertextual continuity with a history reaching back to Homeric epic — are more than fantasies easily blown away by the winds of time and scepticism.


Susan Howe’s lines near the start of ‘Pythagorean Silence’ evoke this doubt about the relevance of the long poem better than most: ‘age of earth and us all chattering // a sentence or character / suddenly // steps out to seek for truth fails / falls // into a stream of ink Sequence / trails off.’ This could be another way of saying what Bunting is saying, that the Cantos, and by implication, the modernist long poem, never coheres, and carries with it a certain fatality (falling into the stream of ink, time, and consciousness), in both the sense of fate (this poem is our fate because it so perfectly projects the fate of modernity, or more troublingly, it may somehow undermine reading and subjectivity, a fate that some long poems actively court). If when reading the debates around long poems one rarely experiences a triumphalist tone, it may be partly because in practice the long poem is also marked by failure to the point where it could be said that failure is constitutive of the long poem.


This idea that long poems are a problem is familiar to us mainly in the form of Harold Bloom’s Oedipal psycho-drama which mingles a common-sense idea about the need for art to be original with a Hitchcockian vision of almost universal transference. Every poet is faced with the Alps of his predecessors. Bloom’s attempts to theorise this are notoriously unconvincing, but his initial assumption that poets struggle with the great works of their predecessors finds more willing agreement, because we are already willing to think in these terms, even if the more usual manner is to condemn the long poem as some sort of failure. All the five long poems cited by Wright have been characterised as failures, even by the poets themselves and certainly by their successors, and one of the most common strategic moves by the writer of a long poem is to clear space for a new effort by pejorative guidebook entries similar to Bunting’s. If these long poems are failures (the Maximus poems, In Memoriam James Joyce, or Flow Chart, might also qualify), what might success look like, and what is it that makes us as readers of long poem have such high expectations that we see these as failures? ‘What is there to say about them’ as Bunting asks? Is a long poem no longer capable of achieving the cultural centrality that we wish for it, or is perhaps failure necessary for the poem to do its cultural work, a kind of humility or penitence (but if so for what?).


Beginning with the failure to be a poem, the long poem all too often goes on to fail the toaster test; it fails to find the electricity of readers or the necessary ‘bread’. We should not forget that for every major work there are many now rusting long poems (think just of poems from a decade as recent as the 1970s, George Quasha’s Somapoetics, or Theodore Enslin’s Synthesis, or Robert Kelly’s The Loom). The judgement of failure is not the negative that it sounds, however, if we stand further back from the long poem and think of a wider range of types of intellectual project. Failure is integral to many forms of intellectual project, science most notably of all, because inquiry, research, investigation and discovery all begin from the premise that existing concepts and knowledge are insufficient. Something remains unknown. It may yield to questioning but inevitably there will be many wrong steps, false hypotheses, misrecognitions along the way, both because of the initial insufficiency of the cognitive maps and the inadequacy of available tools. A good theory always needs testing and correction. Maybe the toaster analogy breaks down the way toasters themselves always do sooner or later, and we should compare those seventies long poems to a scientific instrument such as the oscilloscope, once found on lab bench and now rusting in basements, rather than comparing them to consumer kitchenware.


There is a long running critical debate about the long poem usefully summarised by Vincent Sherry. [19] M. L. Rosenthal and Sally Gall, for instance, argue that we shouldn’t look for any thematic unity in a long poem and instead focus on the constitutive small lyric units, saying: ‘A poem depends for its life neither on continuous narration nor on developed argument but on a progression of specific qualities and intensities of emotionally and sensuously charged awareness.’ [20] The implications of this claim would be that most 19th century long poems fail because they rely on narrative, and most twentieth-century poems because they illicitly espouse argument (though we might note that a poet such as Leslie Scalapino asks why her contemporaries eschew narrative and says it offers a valuable form of what she calls ‘scrutiny’). [21] Sherry refers to Charles Altieri’s idea that the long poem is based on contraries, on ‘lucidity and lyricism’, and explains that by lucidity Altieri means ‘a post-Enlightenment temperament: an emphasis on fact, a use of scientific-referential language, an exercise of analysis, a scepticism about received systems of meaning but an equal tendency toward a process of reasoning that forms its own system.’ Lucidity is a slightly odd name for a constellation of discursive virtues characterising reasoned inquiry based on research. Lyricism is understood quite broadly to mean the work of imagination, affect and value. Sherry concludes that according to this model, the poem’s themes, its beliefs and ideas, are explored through lyric, and then the material is organised into ‘sophisticated, rational, ordered and integral statements of theme’(243) It’s a neat account, perhaps too neat, and the terms, ‘idea’, ‘theme’, ‘belief’, and so forth, could do with amplification, and it may be a mistake to link overall coherence so closely with reasoning, yet on the other hand this account does compellingly emphasise something crucial about the long poem: its capacity for sustained inquiry, and the corresponding endorsement of the poetic value of conceptual thought to a degree not found in most lyric poetry.


In his fascinating and wide-ranging study of a wide range of different sorts of contemporary long poem, The Obligation Toward the Difficult Whole, Brian McHale argues that the long poem is a ‘modernist invention’ and to write a long poem is ‘in effect, to be a high modernist, no matter whether one is writing under conditions of modernity in 1922 or 1942, or under the “postmodern condition” in 1968 or 1980 or 1991.’ He then goes on to propose that this does not mean that the postmodern long poem is merely business as usual. Its willingness to play with narrative (think of Gunslinger, Harlem Gallery, The Changing Light at Sandover, or Mercian Hymns, all poems that McHale discusses in compelling detail) contrasts with the ban on narrative exercised by the modernist long poem in reaction to its Victorian forebears. McHale finds striking affinities with postmodernist fiction, and also suggests that we think of the postmodern long poem in terms of Robert Venturi’s idea that we can have an ‘obligation toward the difficult whole’ of certain sorts of artworks, a heuristic that McHale adopts for his epistemically scrupulous, highly perceptive, close readings.


Speaking of Susan Howe’s The Europe of Trusts, but implicitly describing the entire field, McHale argues that there are distinctly different ways of responding to this text, and ‘each alternative implies a different hypothesis of what constitutes the “whole”, how its parts are articulated, what lies inside that presumed whole and what outside it.’(17) Some long poems don’t even have a “whole” in any obvious sense, since they were added to, had sections removed, and there is no definitive edition.


What are we to make of his two large claims about the long poem, that it’s modernist and that long poems are experiments with wholeness? Is the long poem essentially modernist and as it were doomed to repeat the manoeuvres and mistakes of the high modernists such as Pound? Perhaps it would help to think about what it means not to be modernist. At the height of high modernism, in 1927, Charles Williams provocatively published a selection of Victorian Narrative Verse with Oxford University Press, admitting that the Victorian age was ‘at last taking on the full aspect of the past’ (iii) while attempting to salvage a few poetic relics for this modernist age. Much of what Williams now has to say seems eccentric or cliché: the Victorian age believed in what he calls ‘conduct’ or duty, and aspired to a nobility both of conduct and in ‘telling the truth.’ ‘Nobility’ is one of those terms that time makes almost incomprehensible, so I want to suggest that there are ample reasons for translating it as wisdom, primarily, though not exclusively, moral wisdom.


Williams is far from uncritical of the Victorian poets. Too often the writers could offer nothing substantial in the poem that would adequately represent ideals of nobility, as he alleges happens in Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, with the exception of the final section, ‘Morte D’Arthur’. Despite himself, Williams sounds strangely modernist when he tries to argue that what is missing in many Victorian narrative poems is action, and it was only when poets stepped back from ‘exhortation’ to concentrate on action, on telling a story, that they succeeded (Pound’s ideas of action derived from his sinological mentor Ernest Fenollosa are not so different).


Crucial to this was an absence of self-consciousness. Indeed in their handling of narrative they exceeded the twentieth-century, when ‘many contemporary poets are too agitated or too dull for the art’(vii) (these seemingly odd adjectives ‘agitated’ and ‘dull’ might seem otiose, but think again of Day, or much of what has been written about Susan Howe’s use of scattered, agitated lines on the page). His selection of what can be rescued from the past includes, along with the Tennyson, poems by Longfellow, Browning, Bell Scott, Kingsley, Arnold, Christina Rossetti, Morris and Stevenson.


What a modern reader notices in these selections, more than the medievalising tendency, is a striking self-consciousness about the problem of audience that manifests itself as a performance anxiety surrounding the very act of narration. Take Tennyson’s ‘Morte D’Arthur’. Despite its classification as a narrative poem, most of the poem consists not of narrative but dramatic speeches between King Arthur and his attendant knight Sir Bedivere who is supposed to throw Excalibur in a nearby lake while Arthur lies dying and unable to move. Bedivere flinches at the thought of discarding a beautiful sword, and returns twice to Arthur to lie to him that the sword has been ditched as ordered, and each time Arthur sees through the deception. This structure puts into relief the act of narration that has created the poem itself, through a fiction that the poem is an oral performance. Sir Bedivere is a bad poet because he does not know how to perform a poem, and his two line description of what he saw when he threw in the famous sword (‘I heard the ripple washing in the reeds, And the wild water lapping on the crag’) fails not only because it is a lie, but because it is expressed in a rusty oral style of alliterative, heavily patterned verse.


Arthur’s final speech can be read as an admission of the insufficiency of this kind of poetry as capable of providing a commentary on contemporary life (‘now the whole ROUND TABLE is dissolved / Which was an image of the mighty world’), in the face of radical change (‘new men, strange faces, other minds’). Arthur’s heavenly destination of Avalon ‘lies / Deep-meadow’d, happy, fair with orchard-lawns’, and as sometimes happens with Tennyson, one hears an unconscious pun in the word ‘lies’, an admission that this poetic vision is only a museum of old poetic fancies. George Eliot wrote in a Westminster Review essay in 1855 that Tennyson was ‘of all artists the one whose works are least in peril from the changing conditions of humanity’ — with hindsight it looks as if it was this ‘chimerical yearning for the impossible’, the reluctant recognition of change, that the Victorians felt helped his poetry manage to be an enduring ‘image of the mighty world’. [22]


Looking back at Charles Williams’ version of the 19th century long poem we can see that the structural relation to the readership betrays an anxiety about the existence of a public. Browning’s Sordello is a narrative history delivered supposedly to an audience of the dead as well as the living, because ‘poets know the dragnet’s trick, / Catching the dead, if fate denies the quick’, but perhaps it is closer to the mark to say that only the dead are any longer willing to participate in the performative conditions needed for the long poem. The problem appears to be that the long poem demands a performative relation of a type of recognition between poem and society whose insufficient historical instantiation is a deep cause of anxiety, in part at least because poets were competing with novelists for the same territory. What did the novelists think of poetry at this time (remembering that Molly Schwartzberg directly compares Day with major modern fiction)? I shall begin with Henry James who did so much to lay the foundations for our theories of the novel.


James wrote little directly about poetry. Most revealing of his discussions of poetry is probably what he said in 1876 in a brief review of Baudelaire published in The Nation. James criticises Baudelaire for his fanciful and external view of decadence and depravity rather than his choice of such material, though he partially excuses Baudelaire his flights of imagination because ‘for a poet to be a realist is of course nonsense.’ [23] What James finds disappointing in Baudelaire as a poet is something else, the way that Baudelaire explores evil as an observer rather than through empathy and introspection, or what James calls ‘contemplation and curiosity,’ and as a result Baudelaire’s ‘own intellectual agility was not in the least discomposed’ (56) by it. A novelist would have put the subjective viewpoint of the narrative at risk from the material explored. Few later readers are likely agree with James’s judgement on Baudelaire, but this idea that subjectivity should be at risk, and should admit and reflect upon its own longings points towards the direction that the long poem would take in the next century.


In the same essay, James also has a go at aestheticism’s dismissal of morality in art in terms that invite us to reflect on contemporary developments, saying that great artists ‘feel that the whole thinking man is one, and that to count out the moral element in one’s appreciation of an artistic total is exactly as sane as it would be (if the total were a poem) to eliminate all the words in three syllables, or to consider only such portions of it as had been written by candle-light.’ (58) What James inadvertently does here is to alert us to what is at stake in the conflict between the long literary novel and the long poem, because readers of the long poem will recognise just such poetic strategies as characteristic of the conceptual strategies of modernist long poems. Darren Wershler-Henry’s witty chain of conceptual avant-garde art actions for writers, The Tape-Worm Foundry, for instance, takes such notions to the limit of self-parody and the evacuation of any aesthetic value (‘andor use about fifteen different types of erasers andor publish transparent books for people who like to read while driving andor establish internal rhythms andor write the regulations for more equitable blood sports like the one in an oceanarium between a killer whale and a snorkel diver armed only with a staplegun’). [24] Wershler-Henry can do this just because Oulipian restrictive templates that eliminate words, letters or punctuation, are not considered signs of breakdown but as signs of McHale’s ‘difficult whole,’ as well as tokens of earlier, now exhausted forms of experiment (and perhaps an implicit critique of the progressivism of some models of experimentation).


As it happens, we can look at James from a poet’s point of view. Ezra Pound praises James highly in a 1918 essay for making America ‘intelligible,’ affirming liberty, and above all for exposing the ills of modernity, but then goes on to make some odd judgements of the novelist’s source of strength. [25] James’s ‘scriptorial processes’ (299) succeed because of their ‘sheer bulk,’ the ‘momentum of his art’ that like a vast ‘fly-wheel’ whose inertial force can smooth out the variations in a large fast-moving machine assembly, enables him to be the remarkably accurate ‘great true recorder’ of modern life. The machine metaphors are fascinating, as is also this strange emphasis on the inertial force of James’s writerly bulk. Is Pound, as a slim young poet confusing, perhaps even a little maliciously, the size of the older man with the work (as we might recall tended to happen with another even larger man, Charles Olson)? Or is Pound projecting a quality that he values in poetry onto this novelist by praising bulk? Is bulk, or what I have been calling length, a significant feature of poetry, especially when ordered into a coherent regularity in a long poem? Is length a kind of momentum necessary for the poet to take on the large issues?


In a footnote arising from a discussion of James’s novel The Awkward Age, to which Pound has ambivalent responses, he tries to explain the difference between poetry and fiction as explicitly as he can: ‘Most good prose arises, perhaps, from an instinct of negation; is the detailed, convincing analysis of something detestable; of something which one wants to eliminate. Poetry is the assertion of a positive, i.e. of desire, and endures for a longer period.’ (324) The fact that this speculation is tucked away in a note also suggests that he is unsure of himself, and we can see why. Though Pound doesn’t make any finer distinctions between different sorts of poem, it seems plausible, particularly at the time he wrote the essay, that he was planning his own long poem. In effect he is saying that while the novel is an art of negation, poetry is an art of longing, or desire, and if this neat dichotomy sounds implausible, we might reflect on the interesting resonance in these two terms which had a long philosophical history and became central to the philosophy of Hegel. The invocation of Hegel also suggests that what Pound would aim at would be an integration of negation and longing, the sort of poem that might have the bulk or qualities of the novel, and therefore somehow achieve this. Curiously then, Charles Williams and Ezra Pound share some basic assumptions about poetry, despite their apparent opposition on the value of narrative, because both think that poetry should be attempting to provide ‘an image of the mighty world’.


As we saw earlier, McHale argues that the postmodern long poem is both modernist and an art in which relations between parts and wholes provides the dynamic. His admirably frank account of his problems reading John Ashbery’s poem ‘The Skaters’ suggests that these relations impose obligations because they make any secure interpretation almost impossible to achieve. He shows how three different, though possibly overlapping, modes of interpretation — resulting respectively in a focus on narrative images, projections of selfhood, or ars poetica statements (reflexive passages where the aesthetic is represented, questioned, re-imagined) — each appears to offer rewards that on closer inspection turn out to be illusory. McHale calls this a ‘hermeneutic failure’ (159) and suggests that it can be turned into ‘a kind of meta-solution’ to what he explicitly describes as the problem of how to interpret the poem, except that even this is insufficient, because there still remains some material in the poem ‘unaccounted for, including lines that are among the most resistant to interpretation’ (160). The best the critic can do is to suggest that there is an ‘ebb and flow of intelligibility in this poem’ (160) and McHale ruefully concludes that Ashbery ‘has anticipated even this move; he has gotten there ahead of me and evacuated in advance all the positions that I might have tried to occupy, leaving me nothing but a bitter impression of absence. Which as we know involves presence, but still… .’ (161).


This final rhetorical flourish (‘which as we know involves presence’) is telling. It reluctantly invokes Derrida’s critique of Husserl that became one of the founding ideas of literary theory, as if to say that although we interpreters of Ashbery’s poem are left with nothing tangible we can console ourselves that we have confirmed the insights of deconstruction, though the final two words (‘but still’) indicate that McHale, and perhaps some of his readers, might have hoped for more than this. It’s what this more might be that I want to pursue now.


There are several responses one might make to McHale’s reading of Ashbery. A reader could agree with everything McHale finds in Ashbery’s poem but see the ‘unaccounted for’ as a mark of its brilliance as a self-deconstructing text that somehow reveals the unfixed nature of language, which constructs subjects, referents, and representations only to have them disperse again in the fluidities of language. For this reader there could never be more to hope for. Another response might be to question McHale’s emphasis on interpretation and agree with those who argue that we should simply leave a work of art to be itself, not try and paraphrase or decode it, an approach brilliantly articulated by Susan Sontag in her essay ‘Against Interpretation’. A third somewhat similar response would be a Greenbergian one, that the poem’s partial illegibility focuses the reader’s attention on the surface of discourse, its materiality, and so in a sense the incompleteness of our clarification of every line is necessary to the poem’s aims. Incompleteness is another name for mute sensuous materiality.


Clement Greenberg argues in his famous essay ‘Modern Painting’ (1960) that after Kant the arts faced a crisis: if they wanted to avoid being treated as nothing more than mere entertainment and retain confidence in their capacity for inquiry, a capacity increasingly shifting over onto the sciences, the arts had to follow the Kantian line of an immanent critique of rationality. He writes: ‘It quickly emerged that the unique and proper area of competence of each art coincided with all that was unique in the nature of its medium.’ [26] What each art does in its own area of competence is to test the applicability of theories of art to actual practice in what amounts to an experimental method very similar to that used in the sciences. In poetic practice this would presumably mean a concentration on language as medium, and lead to readings of the long poem’s tests of its findings. The result might look like Wittgensteinian or deconstructionist reflexive engagements with the conditions of discourse.


From McHale’s standpoint, the problem with all three of these responses would be that they too readily give up on the task of accounting for the claims made on us by each specific line, every word, and the integrative structures at work, however incomplete they may be compared to a piece of conventional prose. He wants us to resist rushing to invoke a conceptual explanation that amounts to a setting aside of what is said in the poem and treating it as an overall aesthetic paradigm, while retaining our commitment to line by line interpretation. Is it possible to stay close to the text and not ignore any of the text’s semantic antics, and yet bring to bear more general frameworks? One answer that I shall not pursue here is that we could rethink what we understand by part/whole relations in cultural practices, perhaps drawing on the work of contemporary ethnographers who have done much in this area. [27]


One of the most promising suggestions as to how we might take further McHale’s thinking is provided by the work of J. M. Bernstein in his study of modernist painting. He too recognises the difficulty of what cannot be accounted for in the work of art: ‘I presume that works of art and aesthetic experience are puzzling, even insufferable,’ and so ‘what requires explanation, is not, primarily the meaning of works, but their capacity for claiming, for demanding or requiring acknowledgement and assent, and so, by extension, that they are objects we care about… interpretation matters only to the degree to which it aids in explaining the normative force of works, that they do lodge a claim that requires heeding.’ [28] What might this recognition of the longing of the art work for recognition of its claims entail if we think not of visual art but the modernist long poem?


I have suggested that the failings of the long poem are closely connected with the importance of what Altieri calls its ‘lucidity,’ Williams calls its ‘nobility,’ James calls ‘contemplation and curiosity’, and Pound calls ‘momentum.’ What unites these values? The puns in Susan Howe’s sceptical response to the claims of poetry can help us here: ‘a sentence or character / suddenly // steps out to seek for truth fails / falls // into a stream of ink Sequence / trails off.’ Character signifies both letter and subject; a sequence (of words, a sentence) is variously a syntactic unit, an assertion, a judgement, and for some reason it suddenly tries to find the truth, tries we might say to be truthful, and drowns in ink, in words that extinguish this search. The result? ‘Sequence trails off’, the poem loses coherence, its length merely longing. The instability of these terms is significant but I want to suggest that we can think of all of them as gesturing towards ideals of inquiry. In addition to the axis of narrative there is an axis of inquiry, and though this spatial analogy suffers, as do so many of our current metaphoric emulations of the sciences, from the risk of appearing more precise than it is, at least it holds as far as to be able to draw our attention to the shared incremental and temporal form of both.


We too readily think of inquiry as measured in certainties. Bernard Williams points out that what he calls ‘the economy of inquiry’ is such that ‘questions that are at all difficult do not typically yield certainty, and the pursuit of certainty would be either impossible or absurdly expensive in terms of effort and time. So, very often, we leave various avenues unexplored; and this means, also very often, that we do not know exactly what avenues have been unexplored.’ [29] Even approximate truth may be hard to establish, and as he puts it, ‘generally, when I do not know how to answer a question, I do not know fully determinately what is stopping me doing so.’(133–4) A key quality of inquiry is its hesitancy, and this is due to the insufficiency of foreknowledge not only of what may result from a particular line of investigation, but even of whether this line of inquiry could succeed.


Inquiry is an attempt to turn failure to account, and certain characteristics of the long poem as it has been widely practised in the twentieth-century lend themselves to inquiry, even if it takes place across domains other than those that have been made normative for the natural sciences, which have increasingly provided the hegemonic templates for inquiry capable of producing knowledge and a sufficiency of truth for our modernity. The best account I know of that surveys the philosophical issues of autonomy, reason, language, aesthetics, and above all subjectivity, is the unfolding project of the American philosopher Robert Pippin. He likes to quote Hegel’s claim that ‘philosophy is its own time comprehended in thought’ (31) and I shall suggest that it would be a reasonable extrapolation, given his extensive writing on modern fiction, to suggest that he might endorse the idea that the modern long poem also attempts to be its own time comprehended in poetic thought.


His starting point is the disenchantment amounting to disgust felt by many modern thinkers and artists, with the modern bourgeois idea that human beings can be free subjects determining the shape of their own lives. He agrees with the critics of both the normative ideal of freedom and ontological claims for a ‘free, rational, independent, reflective, self-determining subject’ that neither freedom nor the autonomous subject have been achieved; so far they are simply longings though not delusions. Humanity has not yet been able to realise historically more of the ideals of the autonomous subject set forth most fully by Kant and Hegel, and by many other subsequent modern artists and thinkers. Pippin wants us to reflect critically in other words on the intensity of our disenchantments with modernity and not discard altogether the concept that a rationally reflective self-consciousness is possible and desirable just because we cannot accept the idea of a wholly self-managing subject independent of all constraints. Much of this critical reflection is done by literary works.


You can skip the next paragraph. I need to summarise a few philosophical ideas here. My main point is that the reflexivity of modern art that Greenberg and many others trace back to Kant, takes a specific form: it is always a web of intersecting reasons, or propositions, or assertions, or loosely, sentences.


Pippin argues that Kant’s greatest insight was that our ability to know the world depends on concepts that gain their authority not from some platonic realm nor from mere individual rationalisation but from collective norms that are social, the ‘result of social interactions within communities over time, collectively self-constituted norms.’ (184) Indeed subjectivity is ‘a kind of collective human achievement’ resulting from ‘a kind of continual negotiation about normative authority’ (95) To think is to judge or apply a concept and we do that through the application of a collectively produced reason: ‘judging is always regulation by a norm; thinking is trying to get it right’ (182) The philosopher Robert Brandom is right to say that ‘any objective content is inseparably linked to the structure of our asserting and inferring and justifying practices’ (48). None of this entails any theoretical model of how our brains or minds work: ‘This core Kantian claim — the autonomy of the normative domain, the claim that the only thing that bears on the sufficiency of a reason for action is another reason, never a mere state of affairs or cause on its own — is everywhere based on such a practical argument and never on any direct theoretical claim about our intelligible selves.’(115) Pippin is not saying that individuals do all this in splendid isolation as independent egos: ‘I am not convinced that individual minds are the primary bearers and sustainers of linguistic and general meaning.’(170)


Pippin provides us with what we need to fill out the idea of J. Bernstein’s that what we should explore in works of art is ‘their capacity for claiming’ rather than going straight to interpretation. What happens if we think of the long poem as having been very concerned with the norms for inference, entitlements to belief, and commitments? The modern long poem has been almost obsessed with strategies for reflecting on the proposition by intensifying, slowing down, partially suspending, questioning, and above all foregrounding the poeisis of culturally normative practices on which it depends. Poets have persistently used incomplete syntax in the form of collaged or paratactic phrases in which the structure of assertion is opened to view. They have created contexts where the reader is forced back on a highly self-conscious circle of inferences that cannot stabilise in one dominant obvious form. The abstraction of the long poem over time is increasingly marked, and accompanied by increasing resistance to any statement having assertoric force that might be attributed to its author. Perhaps we could talk of a ‘meta-modernism’ in something like the sense that Paul Hamilton talks of ‘meta-romanticism’ to characterise a literature whose ‘immanent unease’ and ‘expression of the major convulsions that subjectivity enjoys’, has what he calls a philosophical function. [30] We might also take up Simon Jarvis’s terms for describing Wordsworth’s poetry: ‘philosophic song’. [31] Or a song of inquiry.


Let me start to approach the end of this essay with a longer example of the contemporary long poem, which makes its commitment to inquiry especially plain. Allen Fisher’s poem Gravity as a Consequence of Shape projects a world in which specialist scientific investigations are an accepted part of life. The poem ‘Philly Dog’, from Entanglement, refers to ‘each human timespace’ rather than experience, memory or history, and blends the discourse of subjectivity with the causal discourses of physical material:


I am a homeorhetic system
of attractor surfaces of chreods, necessary pathways,
located in multi-dimensional spacetimes
in which crossovers correspond to catastrophes
Folds on the surface that suspend descriptive
referential functions and any temporal character
of my experience and lead into a world unfolded
by every narrative [32]


Is Fisher treating the human subject as merely a froth of consciousness on a cappuccino of nuclear particles best studied by physicists? Or does the specialised scientific language have a more complex role in this and other passages than merely to humble subjectivity by reminding it of deeper causes of its vicissitudes and beliefs? Like much of the poem, the passage is organised around the attempt to represent moments of transformation, and here the narrator represents himself as a system that can undergo sudden transformations or “catastrophes”, alluding in part to Renée Thom’s theory of morphogenesis. Instead of an incrementally additive sequence based on narrative, ideas, autobiography or any of the other logics of linear structure, this poem continually folds back on itself as if continually attempting to present a text transformed by new perspectives. The measure or prosody of the text relies on a juxtaposition of elements that don’t absorb or demolish one another. Fisher himself has described his principles in an essay on aesthetics as a ‘transformational poetics’ (B2 116) and the central principle could be called metamorphosis. Line structures are repeated in different sections with slightly altered phrasing, combinatorial logic shows through in many places, its ‘processes courting the edges of unrecognisability.’


Although Entanglement is a work in which no phrase or sentence can be treated as a reliable metonym of larger intentional structures, ‘Pulling Up & Quasi Queen’ comes close to providing an extended meditation on the themes of the book:


In the poem I am never myself, but speak beyond myself, the poem is that transportation of the self evident before the invention of wheels, perhaps evident in the ecstatic. This serial composition offers an initial dismissal of the dialectical universe. This in no way shifts away from the potential of constraints in combinatorial serial form or physical jouissance of perception. (124)


We have here a mutation of Altieri’s axes of lyricicism and lucidity into axes of jouissance and speculative inquiry (reasoning without dialectical closure). Fisher uses registers of language, rarely encountered in poetry, that challenge reading habits developed in the Poundian tradition of tracking allusions to historical and literary sources because a definition of a term is insufficient to explain its use, and originary sources of the kind that Pound and Olson rely upon are rarely available. Scientific discourse itself is deliberately shared and fast moving. Fisher finds ways to détourne recent scientific theories and puts them to work articulating pressing aesthetic issues of perception, reception and cognition in poetics. Maybe détourne is not quite the right term here because this is not ’pataphysical. [33] He remains respectful, for instance, of the theory of decoherence even as he is stretching its application to another domain than that for which it was developed, cleverly retaining some epistemological connection between the concept’s justifiable domain and that which he wants to investigate, so that it is at least possible that the principle at work in this case in the subatomic realm scales up to the field in which he interested. Such respect for the workings of scientific concepts entails a tact and insight into the cultural reach of these ideas that remains unique in contemporary writing.


Novels, flywheels, toasters, difficult wholes, mediums, claimants, transportation without (fly)wheels: this is a heterogeneous set of metaphors for the longing of the long poem. Like the toaster, the long poem requires a cultural matrix that can only exist if an entire poetry economy is ready to commit itself, and the most prominent model of that commitment is the modern literary novel. The modernist long poem owes more to the novel than the apparent antipathy of modernist poetics to narrative might suggest, and not just because the modern novel is the measure of the major cultural text. The challenge for the modernist long poem is that narrative and nobility or wisdom are no longer viable drivers of the unfolding structure, and have had to be replaced. What is then going to provide the transportation, the forward impulsion of the form and its necessary counterpart the reader? Interpretation and the fitting of parts to a projected whole would not be enough on their own without some momentum. Suspense is generated by what J. Bernstein called ‘claiming’, that I have argued is provided by experiment, investigation, and other forms of inquiry, even simply the curiosity of tracing out a generative schema of the kind adopted by conceptual artists. Its length favours immersivity, a loss of cognitive horizons by readers, and poets have taken advantage of the opportunity to create their own domains. The bulk, the flywheel, provides benchspace for this song of inquiry which can then take on some of the cultural authority of science, as Greenberg rightly argues.


A song of inquiry? Of course there is no formula, no single metaphor adequate to represent the diversity of the modern long poem, but I have suggested that its continuing fascination arises from its capacity for wild inquiry, for its curiosity, its speculation, its overextended commitment to asking awkward questions, its persistence in the face of inarticulacy, the question ‘what then?’ The (V)LP is not going the way of the (Vinyl)LP. And if that is not a good enough ending I have probably been spending too much time with long poems, as one should.

[1] Hugh MacDiarmid, ‘In Memoriam James Joyce,’ The Complete Poems of Hugh MacDiarmid, ed. Michael Grieve and W. R. Aitken (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985), 888–889.

[2] Wallace Stevens, Collected Poetry and Prose (New York: Library of America, 1997), 351–2.

[3] Ezra Pound, The Cantos (New York: New Directions, 1993), 823–4.

[4] Louis Zukofsky, “A” (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), 563, 803.

[5] Charles Olson, The Maximus Poems ed. George F. Butterick (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975), 634–635.

[6] Ron Silliman, Tjanting (Great Barrington, Ma.: The Figures, 1981), 213; Allen Fisher, Leans: Gravity as a Consequence of Shape Volume 3 (Great Wilbraham, Cambridge: Salt Publishing, 2007), 177; Lyn Hejinian, A Border Comedy (New York: Granary Books, 2001), 212; Bruce Andrews, Lip Service (Toronto: Coach House Books, 2001), 380.

[7] Alain de Botton, How Proust Can Change Your Life (New York: Vintage, 1998), 29

[8] Molly Schwartzberg ,’ Encyclopedic Novelties: On Kenneth Goldsmith’s Tomes’, Ubuweb.

[9] Kenneth Goldsmith, ‘Paragraphs on Conceptual Writing,’ Open Letter 12:7 (Fall 2005), 98–101, 98.

[10] Andrea Brady, ‘Tom Raworth: Poetry and Public Pleasure,’ in Tony Lopez and Anthony Caleshu eds., Poetry and Public Language (Exeter: Shearsman Books, 2007), 27.

[11] Henry James, The Art of the Novel (New York: Charles Scribner and Sons, 1934), 5.

[12] Jonathan Culler, ‘Why Lyric?,’ PMLA 123:1 (January 2008), 201–206, 202.

[13] Virginia Jackson, ‘Who Reads Poetry?’, PMLA 123:1 (January 2008), 181–187, 183.

[14] Robert Kaufman, ‘Lyric Commodity Critique, Benjamin Adorno Marx, Baudelaire Baudelaire Baudelaire,’ PMLA 123:1 (January 2008), 207–215, 211.

[15] Rei Terada, ‘After the Critique of Lyric,’ PMLA 123:1 (January 2008), 195–200, 200.

[16] Harvey Molotch, Where Stuff Comes From: How Toasters, Toilets, Cars, Computers And Many Other Things Come To Be As They Are (New York: Routledge, 2005), 1.

[17] Philip K. Dick, Ubik (New York: Vintage, 1991), 127.

[18] Basil Bunting, ‘On the Fly-leaf of Pound’s Cantos,’ Collected Poems (London: Fulcrum Press, 1970), 122.

[19] Vincent Sherry, ‘Current Critical Models of the Long Poem and David Jones’s The Anathemata’, ELH 52:1 (1985)

[20] M. L. Rosenthal and Sally Gall, ‘The Modern Poetic Sequence’ (1983). Cited in Sherry.

[21] See for instance, Leslie Scalapino in conversation with Sarah Rosenthal, 11 January 2001, Jacket 23 (2003).

[22] Thomas Pinney ed., Essays of George Eliot (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963), 191

[23] Henry James, ‘Charles Baudelaire’, Selected Literary Criticism ed. Morris Shapira (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968), 57.

[24] Darren Wershler-Henry, The Tape-Worm Foundry andor The Dangerous Prevalence of Imagination (Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2000).

[25] Ezra Pound, ‘Henry James’, Literary Essays of Ezra Pound ed. T. S. Eliot (London: Faber and Faber, 1954), 298.

[26] Clement Greenberg, ‘Modern Painting’, The Collected Esssays and Criticism Volume 4: Modernism With a Vengeance 1957–1969, ed. John O’Brian (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 86.

[27] I am thinking especially of the work of Marilyn Strathern. See The Gender of the Gift (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), and After Nature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

[28] J. M. Bernstein, Against Voluptuous Bodies: Late Modernism and the Meaning of Painting (Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 2006), 14.

[29] Bernard Williams, Truth and Truthfulness: An Essay in Genealogy (Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2002), 134.

[30] Paul Hamilton, Metaromanticism: Aesthetics, Literature, Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 2–3.

[31] Simon Jarvis, Wordsworth’s Philosophic Song (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

[32] (Entanglement, 87)

[33] See Roger Shattuck and Simon Watson Taylor eds., ’Pataphysics is the Only Science: Evergreen Review 4:13 (May-June 1960); and Christian Bök, ’Pataphysics: The Poetics of an Imaginary Science (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2002).

Peter Middleton

Peter Middleton

Peter Middleton is the author of Distant Reading: Performance, Readership, and Consumption in Contemporary Poetry (Alabama U.P.), and Aftermath (Salt), and is currently writing a book on science and poetry. He teaches at the University of Southampton, UK.

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