Conversing with Chris: The Long Poem, an Upcoming Workshop

The Long Poem is a six week workshop starting Thursday, March 30, open to all writing levels and backgrounds. We’ve interviewed instructor Christopher Kondrich about what to expect in class. To view complete course information, and to register, click here.

“For me, this is what poetry is all about—discovering not what we have already done, but what we haven’t thought that we might be able to do.” – Christopher Kondrich

fw-chrisHow might beginner writers, or people new to writing poetry, benefit from the Long Poem workshop? 

It’s a class for anyone, at any level, interested in generating new work (or working on something in-progress) a bit differently. This is to say that I think we move too quickly through our writing lives, at a speed that mirrors the speed through which we move through our days and weeks. We want to finish poem after poem fast! Slowing the process down a bit, spending more time on an individual piece as it evolves and flourishes—these are ways that could lead us in unexpected, surprising directions, that could open new pathways and avenues for us creatively. For me, this is what poetry is all about—discovering not what we have already done, but what we haven’t thought that we might be able to do.

What most excites you about the class?

I’m excited to explore the long poems from contemporary poets that I’ll be sharing, but I’m more excited to explore/discuss/workshop the long poems that the class will be starting or continuing. Because the long poem allows for such variety and possibility, I’m particularly excited to see what folks are up to, how they interpret and invoke the form of the long poem. I’m eager to work with those who take the class to explore what else a long poem can be, what lyric or narrative, prose or hybrid work they can create.

How can long poems, as you’ve said, “bend and stretch language, expression and expectation,” and how can this be rewarding and surprising to readers and writers? How will this be explored in class?

Well, when I think about a beautiful, incredible poem like “Song” by Brigit Pegeen Kelly, I think about how short a long poem can be (it’s a page and a half). I think about how many times that poem surprises me, how many times she could have stopped, but the poem keeps going, breaking my heart more and more, into smaller and smaller pieces.

I also think about Timothy Donnelly’s “Hymn to Life,” which eulogizes, with a breathtaking number of stanzas, the endangered species we are on the cusp of losing forever, all intermixed with pop culture references that feel deeply personal and resonant to him. So, to me, “Hymn to Life” represents a memorialization of the loss of species and the memorialization of memory itself, as it churns and fuses the species/pop culture references with line breaks, to name one craft element it utilizes to this effect.

There will be exercises stemming from these, as well as all the other poems we’ll explore together, that will challenge writers to incorporate these strategies (the short long poem, the fusion of disparate elements) into their own work.

What led you to choose the particular poets that this course will explore? 

It dawned on me, when I was brainstorming ideas for a Frequency class, that almost all the poems that stood out to me from the last couple of decades are long or sequential. So, it was a no-brainer to group Kelly and Donnelly with Jorie Graham, Lisa Robertson, Heather McHugh, Vijay Seshadri and Alice Notley. These are some of the most awe-inspiring and vital poets of our time! Each one is so different and vibrant—those who take the class will see from them just how rewarding writing long poems can be.

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