The modernist long poem has had a long and proud history (see Ezra Pound, Louis Zukofsky, et al.). It is seen, mostly, as an oddity—and an easily dismissed oddity at that. Poems are supposed to be short; this is the common perception. In our contemporary world, with attention spans so attenuated, the long poem seems like an even stranger form of artistic expression in an electronic milieu obsessed with convenience and simplicity. There is no time to explore a poetic reality (or any other reality for that matter) greater than a page or two. To the reading public, short poems are already difficult to understand. Why would one tackle something so challenging, without an immediate payoff?
The modernist long poem, as it has been rendered, is usually without plot or formal structure. If there is a plot is it non-linear at best. Perhaps, it is better to say a long poem has a theme of some sort, tying all the narrative strands together. It’s some cool, experimental stuff! These are my own observations from reading long poems over the years. (I’m not an academic, so I won’t try to make claims I can’t support.)
Unfortunately, I feel, the modernist experiments with text, especially with the long poem, have run their course. There is only so much you can do with text. I’ve said this before, I believe, in previous posts. If I haven’t, then let me be clear: textual innovation vis-a-vis the long poem has reached a logical end. Sure, there will be long poems that experiment with language and structure, but they will (likely) be going over the same territory in a slightly altered iteration. Maybe I’m wrong and someone will blow my mind and write a thousand page flarf poem; or maybe, the Conceptual Poets will defy time and space by retrofitting some mundane aspect of daily life. It’s certainly possible. But will it really be innovative?
This is why I’m convinced mixed media is the way to go in terms of the long poem. Textual innovation can happen within the confines of a textual/visual hybrid (or vispo). In fact, it will find a better home within that context. The long-form vispo will take the non-linear/hallucinatory style of the modernist long poem and create new narrative/artistic possibilities. I’m trying to achieve that with my own work. In another post, I hope to explain some of my ideas for the long-form vispo.