The Modern Long Poem?

While on vacation in Georgia, I received a rejection note (a form one at that) from a publication which I rather like. I'm not bummed by the rejection by any means, but the set of poems I sent him seem to be generally terrible, as this is the third publication to reject them. Only three? Well, one asked for poems from me and then rejected them and the other was recommended to me because the poems seem to fit what that particular publication was doing.

And it is entirely possible the poems flat out suck. I mean, they could be really awful. I'm certainly not married to them, but I thought they were quite OK and should be sent out.

It occurs to me now that they are on the longer end of the line spectrum. I don't mean they are "long poems" in the traditional sense, but they also aren't 10-15 line bursts, which seem to be more popular. This isn't to say that they were rejected because of that, but I wonder how much having a poem that is too long plays into whether or not it is published.

I remember once talking to Johannes about why he doesn't write fiction- he claimed he did not have the attention span for it. Editors, to the best of my knowledge, tend to be busy folks. Online publications tend to have fewer people involved, which usually means that one or two people are reading all submissions. And there are a lot of people out there submitting, so there are fewer people with more poems to read. Is it possible that in the midst of a longer poem, the reader is becoming distracted by thoughts of other tasks that must be completed?

Plus, we're talking about space. Granted, a website can contain long or short pieces more easily than print publications, but still there's the issue of code/html and so it might be easier to take two or three short poems versus one long poem. Hosting a webzine costs money, and that money might not be better spent on a long poem.

But that indicates a problem with the editor/reader/publication, which may not exist at all. To be honest, is there anything a long poem is necessarily doing that a short poem cannot do? Of the poems I submitted, only one sustains a "theme" through out. The rest are more irreverent and patch-work poems. The reason my poems were long was simply due to flow: when I start writing, I just keep going until I think a poem is done. And I probably should consider going through and saving the lines I like and cutting the ones I don't. Due to the lack of the aforementioned "theme", I could also consider breaking a long poem into separate smaller poems.

This is not to say there are no long poems out there: Johannes Gorannson's new book, A New Quarantine Will Take My Place contains several longer poems, but we're talking about a book, not a 'zine. A book is clearly a separate venue, and I feel that by the time you get to the point of publishing a book, you can sustain an audience through a longer poem.

I may have tapped the issue: are people really even interested in reading longer poems? When one sits down to read web 'zines, you're not reading just one poet (though maybe you're there to read only one). Reading through multiple publications with multiple poets is not generally when you want to take the time to read a longer poem. On occasion, there are long poems which seem to be featured, for example Joyelle McSweeney's 'First Poem for the Catastrophe' on "Can We Have Our Ball Back?" in September of 2005. But again, McSweeney is the kind of poet who can sustain a reader.

Maybe everyone younger than 40 is having trouble concentrating, I don't know.

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