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152 the minnesota review remember and to struggle, an entirely appropriate conclusion for these stories of work and workers. While building on the tradition of the storyteller with the toughness and enthusiasm of a Wobblie organizer, Brill's writing calls on us to gather our strength and overcome our despair. It is a call we ignore at our peril. RICK RODERICK James McMichael, Four Good Things. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980. 69 pp. $4.95 (paper). Robert Pinsky, An Explanation ofAmerica. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1979. 65 pp. $2.95 (paper). Hans Magnus Enzensberger, The Sinking ofthe Titanic. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980. 98 pp. $5.95 (paper). The hegemony of the lyric poem over modern American poetry is, I suppose, indisputable . The lyric represents the poetic art's formal ideal. Self-contained and organically whole, it reifies experience by transcending quotidian chaos and holding an image of order permanently before us. As an idealist version of reality, the lyric is the culmination of modernity's rage for order. The long poem gets written out of a need to escape both the strictures of the lyric form and the idealism embodied in them. Open-ended, tentative, exploratory, fragmented, impermanent , disorderly — the long poem is the ragamuffin of the poetic world. As a nominaUstic version of reality, it seeks to teU things as they are. As universities, and with them literature departments, burgeoned throughout the first half of this century, it took academics very little time to designate the lyric their preferred form. It is, after all, eminently teachable — you can "do" a lyric or two in fifty minutes. It furthermore keeps rebellious young minds in their place by continually demonstrating to them the logic and order of what only moments before they had not understood. The quietly political lesson of Poetry 101 has always been that things are never as chaotic and disturbing as they seem. They are, rather, purposeful and sensible and, above all, the manifestation of some grand design which, with hard work, any young confused mind might someday begin to appreciate. But despite the indubitable commercial success of the short, well-made lyric poem — spawning anthologies, careers and creative writing programs everywhere — long poems continue to get written. Often by lyric poets. It is as if the American poetry community has tacitly acnowledged that writing lyrics is safe business and that the real excitement of poetry lies in the longer form. If this is so, and I believe it is, then while we keep on cranking out our anthologies, journals and little magazines, and poets everywhere the lyric poems which feed them, an anti-lyric movement is quietly revolutionizing American poetics. It has been hard to detect because short poems are so much easier to publish than long work, and so everyone seems to be doing mostly lyric verse. But for reasons I hope to explain here, however briefly, the lyric is bankrupt — at least the lyric as we've learned it — and the long poem has supplanted it as the dominant American mode. I'd like to begin with the APR's recent put-down of James McMichael's book-length Four Good Things, chiefly because the review represents so well the academic position American poetry has left behind. First of all, the complaint goes, McMichael's poem is "in prose, ' ' and the closest it comes to bringing "the chaos of experience into line" is to achieve "a little child's idea of form." McMichael's style is "dry and empty," a recitation of trivial detail which is "boringly insomniac" and seemingly purified of "the human." Clearly what this reviewer expects of a "good" long poem is that it order experience into some significant — that is, complicated and "adult" — and presumably metrical form, the style of which is at once lively, witty and rife with human emotion of one kind or another. What he expects is the good old Poetry 101 lyric experience, and moreover, since Four Good Things is a long poem, he expects a lot of lyric experiences — whole bunches of epiphanies. For this kind of mind, I would imagine, the only justifiable excuse for writing a long poem is if the poet thinks...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 152-155
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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