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History in Verse

History in Verse (Workshop Handout)

Workshop Description: If indigenous myth, source historical material and writing poetry that includes history (even your family history) interests you, consider this entertaining workshop. Examples of history in verse will be discussed, including the facilitator’s own A Time Before Slaughter. Bring a source text, (book, newspaper article, &) or one’ll be provided.

Of the two poles of North American poetry as outlined by the two seminal mid-century anthologies, we’ll stick with the New American Poetry. Therefore, we trace the source of this history-in-verse approach to Ezra Pound, who started The Cantos in 1917 calling it a “poem to include history.” Other models for this approach to poem-making include:

Paterson by William Carlos Williams
The Maximus Poems by Charles Olson
Some Sketches from the Life of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky by Joanne Kyger
America: A History in Verse, Vol 1-3 and 1968: A History in Verse by Ed Sanders
A Time Before Slaughter and Pig War: & Other Songs of Cascadia by yrs truly.

We’ll read segments from Kyger, Sanders & Pig War and then have a Duo Corpse exercise to get the ink flowing and then use source material participants brought themselves, or articles taken from and provided here. Again remember basic Pound/New American Poetry imagism: Show, don’t tell; Don’t think of words when you stop but to see picture better; No ideas but in things… Tropes developed writing organically, repetition, lists and others tend to come to the front of the mind when writing this way and vary, depend on the experience of the practitioner. Notice how Kyger sets the tone with Blavatsky by immediately noting her historical significance. How alternatives to the three Abrahamic religions have shaped West Coast North American poetry has been a life-long concern for Kyger and she’s one of the best of those poets and highly underrated. Her description of Blavatsky’s “channeling” work and the detail of subsisting on oatmeal comes right after the abstractions of hallucinations, clairvoyance, astral realm, a great example of abstractions being earned.

New American Poetry Pound Williams Olson
Kyger Nelson