You are on page 1of 2

Fears of the writer

Long poem authors sometimes find great difficulty in making the entire poem
coherent and/or deciding on a way to end it or wrap it up. Fear of failure is also
a common concern, that perhaps the poem will not have as great an impact as
intended. Since many long poems take the author's lifetime to complete, this
concern is especially troubling to anyone who attempts the long poem. Ezra Pound is
an example of this dilemma, with his poem The Cantos.[3] As the long poem's roots
lie in the epic, authors of the long poem often feel an intense pressure to make
their long poems the defining literature of the national identity or the shared
identity of a large group of people. The American long poem is under pressure from
its European predecessors, revealing a special variety of this anxiety. Walt
Whitman tried to achieve this idea of characterizing the American identity in Song
of Myself. Thus, when the author feels that their work fails to reach such a
caliber or catalyze a change within the intended audience, they might consider the
poem a failure as a whole.

Poets attempting to write a long poem often struggle to find the right form or
combination of forms to use. Since the long poem itself cannot be strictly defined
by one certain form, a challenge lies in choosing the most effective form.[4]

Generic conundrums

The long poem has been considered a problematic genre for women writers. Its roots
in epic make the genre appear to be non-inclusive of female writers. This is due to
the epic's long history of being primarily a realm of writing for men.[5]

Lyric intensity

Some critics, most emphatically Edgar Allan Poe, consider poetry as a whole to be
more closely tied to the lyric. They complain that the emotional intensity involved
within a lyric is impossible to maintain in the length of the long poem, thus
rendering the long poem impossible or inherently a failure.[6]

In his article "The long poem: sequence or consequence?" Ted Weiss quotes a passage
from M. L. Rozenthal and Sally M. Gall's "The Modern Poetic Sequence" inspired by
Poe's sentiments, "What we term a long poem is, in fact, merely a succession of
brief ones.... It is needless to demonstrate that a poem is such, only inasmuch as
it intensely excites, by elevating, the soul; and all intense excitements are,
through a psychal-necessity, brief. For this reason, at least one half of the
Paradise Lost is essentially prose—a succession of poetical excitements
interspersed, inevitably,with corresponding depressions—the whole being deprived,
through the extremities of its length, of the vastly important artistic element,
totality, or unity, of effect. In short, a poem to be truly a poem should not
exceed a half hour's reading. In any case, no unified long poem is possible."[7]


One genre theory claims that once a poem takes on multiple voices, it becomes a
novel. Many long poems do make use of multiple voices, while still maintaining all
the element of a poem, and therefore cause even more confusion when trying to
define their genre.[citation needed]

Naming and subgenres

Critic Lynn Keller also expresses concerns about the genre in her essay "Pushing
the Limits." Keller states that because of the debate over and prevalence of
subgenres and forms within the overarching genre of long poem, critics and readers
tend to choose one subgenre, typically the epic form, as being the "authentic"
representative form of the genre. Therefore, this causes the other equally
important subgenres to be subject to criticism for not adhering to the more
"authentic" form of long poem.[8] Other critics of the long poem sometimes hold the
belief that with long poems, there is no "middle ground." They view long poems as
ultimately being either epics or lyrics.[citation needed]

Many critics refer to the long poem by various adjective-filled subgenre names that
often are made of various components found within the poem. These can lead to
confusion about what a long poem is exactly. Below you will find a list describing
the most common (and agreed upon) subgenre categories.[3]