I've complained here about the ineptitude of some contemporary narrative verse by USAPO—
see my posts on poems by Wojahn and Plumly, for example—
or my recent response to a "prose poem" by Robert Halfhass—
but there are good/great narrative poems being written by today's poets—
Stephen Dobyns (to name one) has written dozens of them. Dobyns must be the most underrated poet around—
his poetry should have received major prizes long ago. But of course Dobyns
is envied by other poets because of his distinguished record as a novelist—
and so those other poets who "judge" the National Book Award and the Pulitzer etc.,
well, fuck, they're not going to give a poetry honor to any poet who's slash a successful novelist,
when's the last time that happened? was it Robert Penn Warren,—has it happened since then,
has any poet/novelist gotten one of the plum po-prizes, since him?
(I can't recall any; maybe I should go and factcheck the lists of winners since Warren, before I make this accusation)—
Anyway, it seems as if the main requirement for a poetry judge is an alliterative one: jealousy.
(See this previous year's shunning of Seidel's Collected by the panels who picked; hell, they're not going to give it to a millionaire, are they;
except Richard Howard, he's a wealthy gentleman, and they gave his poetry a Pulitzer,
but then Howard for most of his life was the chief dispenser of po-pork in the land:
wasn't he the capo tuttifuck, the kingpink who doled out the the graft,
the nero-nabob who awarded the sweetheart contracts,
the biggycrat who ladled out the cash for all the usual boondoggeral projects,
from his chieftain's-chair up there at PoBiz Inc.)—
Hey, Laura Kasischke,— you're a wonderful poet, your poems are great stuff, but you're writing all those novels in addition to your verse,
and look at the track-record: Dobyns, and Marge Piercy, two names that come to mind of poet-novelists,
neither of whose poetry has gotten the credit and accolade due it.
But I've strayed from my original intent with this post, which was to point to a good narrative poem, this one:
—Whose virtues are obvious, I should think.
Compare it with a narrative poem I think is bad, or incompetent:
—The good one is superior to the bad one not just in its technical skill and style,
but in its clarity: you can tell what's going on in the poem, what's happening:—
and that seems to me the absolute essential basic ingredient of any narrative poem.
Because if I can't ascertain the
from a narrative poem I'm trying to read,
well, I get frustrated.
I see what the one I can't appeciate is trying to do, or think I see: to replicate the emotional confusion of the narrator/protagonist
via the misleads and meanders and maunderings of the writing—
the poet is leaving it up to me the reader to supply the missing factual context/frame, the empirical details
for the poem—
which doesn't want to show: it wants to, what, evoke? Sorry, but after repeated readings I can barely adumbrate what this poet/poem are saying or doing—literally.
They leave me wanting. The failure may be mine, of course, not theirs.
I don't write much narrative poetry, never have. I lack the necessary skills for a sustained depiction of events and characters,
for presenting a scene and the acts that occur therein—
my few attempts have never been satisfactory.
But I do enjoy reading narrative poems when they're done well.
I have (I hope) no prejudice against them simply because I can't write them,
but it's true I seem to have less patience when reading them than I do with lyric verse.