The previous posting on short poems has, naturally, started me thinking about longer poems, and poem lengths generally. I’ve read a couple of verse novels, and I have to admit, Gentle Reader, that I do not like the form. I mean, what’s wrong with the prose novel? The verse novel seems such an artificial thing to attempt, and I’ve no idea what the writers’ motivations might be.
The ‘long poem’ sensu lato, however, has its adherents, and I definitely do see the attraction in writing the pamphlet/chapbook length poem. Not that I’ve written one myself, I have to say. I have written poem sequences though, one of which, the title sequence from Thirteen Ways of Looking At the Highlands, was around 28 pages of typescript. As I envisaged it, it was going to be a sequence of thirteen linked poems, each of which was around two pages long, with a Prologue and an Epilogue to introduce and to summarise. I wrote it on retreat at Moniack Mhor, and I couldn’t have completed it without the isolation and concentration of the retreat. I’ve also written a six-page botanical poem, The Flowers of Scotland, which was an anniversary present to the Botanical Society of Edinburgh, and first published in its newsletter, and later as a poem-card.
But it has to be said that the long poem, or the long poem sequence, isn’t something I regularly set out to write. Most of mine come out under the 40-line length which, as it happens, is also the line length which fits well on many magazine editors’ pages. Not that I write them to fit magazines – it just works out that way. And some editors have larger pages which will take 50 or so lines, or will happily run poems over onto two pages. As far as webzines go, my personal feeling is that you exceed a screenfull at the risk of losing your scroller’s interest. And that too is around the 40-line mark.
Actually, my all-time favourite poem length is the 14-line sonnet. There’s something very satisfying about writing sonnets, rhymed or free – it seems such a natural form.