Serial Poems, the Long Song, and Epic Form in American Verse

deadline for submissions: 
January 24, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
The Charles Olson Society
contact email: 

The Charles Olson Society will sponsor a panel at the upcoming American Literature Association Conference, to be held in Chicago, May 26-29, 2021. We are interested in abstracts that address themes, ideas, and theories related to American long poems. The form goes by many names: the serial poem, the long song, the epic, the life poem, or simply the long poem, but no matter the terminology that is applied to long poems, their abiding presence in the tradition of American poetry is clear. In the world of verse from Walt Whitman to Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Charles Olson, Robert Duncan Louis Zukofsky, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Nathaniel Mackey, Joseph Donahue, and Nathaniel Tarn, the long poem that sometimes has an ending, sometimes that does not, continues to spark important critical questions, to excite new modes of reading, and to require extensive formal inquiry into what is possible in poetics. With the publication of Nathaniel Mackey’s Double Trio in 2021 and the publication of Nathaniel Tarn’s Atlantis: An Authoanthropology in February of 2022, the tradition has extended, showing no sign of disappearing. The long poem is rich ground for debates about the nature of poetry, compositional practices, and historical analysis. As Charles Olson wrote to Robert Creeley during the initial phases of his composition of The Maximus Poems: “there is this headache, the moment you get into this serial universe, […] to keep the reader going – it’s a different biz, than, a single poem.”

How has the form of the long poem developed in America? What kinds of sources and compositional forces do practitioners of long poems marshal in their explorations? How do long poems engage with historical, social, and cultural forces? How has seriality and the making of epics in modernist writing changed the long poem? We will accept abstracts that address these questions, as well as abstracts that propose new ways of reading long American poems from a variety of points of view – feminist, historicist, multi-cultural, formal, and genetic readings of long poems will be particularly welcome.

Please send abstracts of no more than 250 words for presentations at the annual conference to Jeff Gardiner (jeffreyjgardiner@gmail.com) and Joshua Hoeynck (jsh115@case.edu) no later than January 24th 2022. Please include your academic affiliation (if any) and a brief biographical note with your abstract.