My Problems with the Long Poem as Documentary Project

Rarely is this blog a place to discuss my own personal aesthetics or problems, but tonight, I feel inclined to spill/dish.

I never thought I would work on a real documentary project. Mostly, the idea just never appealed to me. However, I'm taking a class with CD Wright in which I am to work on a documentary project.

Well, I was searching around in the dark for a while when, one morning, I heard the phrase "public history". I don't know why I had never heard it before, or maybe I had, and it finally hit me in a specific way. Either way, I was intrigued. That, and I saw a press having a chapbook competition. I started thinking "What is a 'public history'?" and decided it would make for an excellent poem. Or two. Or maybe a long poem. Either way, I was going to have something for workshop with Forrest, that was for sure.

One morning, after I'd written section I and workshopped it, and I was working on sections II and III, it occurred to me that yes, I am working on a documentary project. I didn't even know it. Suddenly the way through become clear.

Unfortunately, I've hit a snag. I've finished I and am mostly finished with II and III, but four has really got me stuck. I don't even know where to start. Section IV is going to be called "A Loser's History of the United States" and I want it to focus on a narrative of American history that isn't just the oddball stuff, but about the people on the losing side of the issues we know so well. Because there is a very clear progression through American history: guerrilla warriors win fighting guys in redcoats in the forests, and loyalists worry about whether or not they'll be hanged in a new country. Paul Revere rode about 20 miles from Boston to Concord, but Israel Bissle rode from Boston to Philadelphia- but of course, we all know who Paul Revere is. Bissle is one of the many losers in American history.

But where to start? Maybe talk about how the "Earth is flat" story from the Columbus voyage is completely untrue? In fact, people had known the world was round for centuries.

Recently, my parents sent me my notes from Mr. Sneed's 10th grade history class. Sneed, by the way, is the central figure in section III, coincidently titled "Talk Like Larry Sneed Day". My goal is to form a narrative of those fantastic stories he told us, but I'm worried about whether or not I can do it. I have been intimidated by the stack of papers my parents sent me because there is so much in there. And it's from another time for me as well: a relatively quiet 10th grader who was into Latin and playing guitar. Perhaps I'm afraid of myself in this too.

Not too say it should be too difficult a project. It should have been pretty easy. But the task isn't all that simple, I suppose: take our consensus history that has created a national identity and break it down. Even though many seem to have done it so far, I feel no one has done it poetically per se.

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