Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

The Great American Poem

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

The Great American Poem

Article excerpt

If this were a novel,

it would begin with a character,

a man alone on a southbound train

or a young girl on a swing by a farmhouse.

And as the pages turned, you would be told

that it was morning or the dead of night,

and I, the narrator, would describe

for you the miscellaneous clouds over the farmhouse

and what the man was wearing on the train

right down to his red tartan scarf,

and the hat he tossed onto the rack above his head,

as well as the cows sliding past his window.

Eventually-one can only read so fast-

you would learn either that the train was bearing

the man back to the place of his birth

or that he was headed into the vast unknown,

and you might just tolerate all of this

as you waited patiently for shots to ring out

in a ravine where the man was hiding

or for a tall, raven-haired woman to appear in a doorway.

But this is a poem, not a novel,

and the only characters here are you and I,

alone in an imaginary room

which will disappear after a few more lines,

leaving us no time to point guns at one another

or toss all our clothes into a roaring fireplace. …

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