A Long Journey
Yesterday, May 18, 2012, I finished the 6th Draft of The Parliament of Poets.
Having written by hand all five previous drafts, I typed the entire manuscript of my epic poem for the first time on the sixth, revising throughout along the way. I’ve actually been quite surprised to discover I think I’m much further along toward completion than I had expected. I believe it’s really a result of my having written each previous draft by hand, which kept the poem very fluid and malleable, in my mind as well as on paper. Each sweep through allowed me to remold and revise more than I tend to once I’ve actually typed a manuscript. With a handwritten manuscript, I think I tend to concentrate on the thought and language much more deeply and am drawn entirely into it. So I’m delighted at the feeling that I’m close to a final manuscript. There are only a few short scenes, of probably only several lines, in a few places, that I want to add. Mostly, from here, I want to continue polishing at the level of phrasing and the line, nothing on the macro scale.
Having begun writing in March of 2008, at a little over four years now, I feel, looking back, quite thankful to be at the point that I am. It’s been a hard struggle, though, every inch of the way, thirty years, truth be told, my earliest notes dated 1982, a long journey. To have the poem finally out of my head and on paper is an incredible feeling. Whether the epic ever makes its way to readers or not, I have accomplished much of what I set out for decades ago.
Almost all of the notes I made over the years are also now incorporated into this draft, which I’ve worked at on each successive pass through. During the writing I had eventually arranged all my notes into folders corresponding with each of the twelve books in order to be able to handle them, on a practical level, so as not to become lost in the enormous number of themes I was trying to grapple with and reconcile. I think the method I evolved into helped to accomplish all that, and there are now very few details I want to add, everything now largely incorporated into the sixth draft. The last cache of notes and material I must go over before I’m done, during the 7th draft, is largely the epic notes I’ve complied for years on my computer, roughly arranged again by the twelve books. Most of it is less germane to the structural and thematic levels of the poem but essential in my mind as background material and thinking, so I feel I must pass through it again to make sure I’m not leaving anything out that has helped to form the poem through the years. Since each draft has required less and less time to write, I don’t anticipate the 7th to take months, but, I hope, perhaps only some weeks.
At 264 pages, formatted for a 6 x 9 book, I’ll probably add several to about ten more pages. I have half of the headnotes for each book mostly done from writing them for this blog, although quite sketchy. They will need considerable revision at this stage, but give me something to begin with. The other half will have to be written from scratch. I intend to add a short introduction of two to three pages, basically discussing my versification and rational for the form of blank verse I’ve used. My thoughts and practice of blank verse go back to my book-length narrative poem The Bower of Nil and the dramatic monologues of Into the Ruins. It is quite important to me that I have always thought in terms of reviving the epic form and creating on the technical level, as well as thematic, the means for renewal. Aristotle’s reflections on epic have been the essential influence on my own, though I would not want to leave out Longinus, Sidney, Milton, Matthew Arnold, E. M. W. Tillyard, and other poets and scholars.
I’ve thought long and hard about length. I don’t believe a modern epic can be as long as Vergil or Dante’s 12,000 to 19,000 lines. Even Milton at 10,565 lines is too long, in some books, for most readers, especially people without a literary background, of varying English command, which would be a very hard ordeal and take the enjoyment out of it, and there are such people who read Milton. I want to reach all of them, too, so I’ve intentionally carved down the form to about 8,600 at the moment. I have much that I want to say to international readers as well as in the West. I’ll add another hundred or so lines, still 9,000 or less total. I believe form and symmetry are more important than length. Aristotle’s old saw about the poet choosing the right details and so on have always remained in my head. Focus and selection, to help the reader pick up the epic and read the whole thing is more important than length.
I think, too, since the epic covers the major regional civilizations, religions, and literatures around the globe, the book needs a glossary of some terms, even though I’ve tried to use those that are already fairly well known and universal. Inevitably, for some readers, especially given the extent to which academic specialization and nationalistic insularity narrow perspective, a glossary would help other readers. One of my concerns in writing a universal epic has always been the difficulty in reaching and helping a reader understand the scope of the poem itself. I believe I have found and used many strategies to accomplish that while circumventing the poem becoming a research project, instead of keeping the narrative flow engaging the reader.
My goal at the moment is to aim for the epic to be completed by July 1, 2012, with a publication date of November 1. I believe I can adhere to this schedule and hope to have review copies available for select readers by very early July so that they might have two or three months to read and consider it, reviewing it if they feel so inclined.
For nearly half of Book III, watch my two poetry readings on YouTube. First, to view in sequence, watch the one at the Albany Word Fest, then the one at the Buffalo Small Press Book Fair:
“I found myself sitting in my study, dozing
over a book, Cervantes’ Don Quixote…”