We call everything from T.S. Eliot‟s Waste Land (maybe 16 pages) to Louis Zukofsky‟s ‘A’ (some 800 pages) “long” poems; what distinguishes the life-long poem (to use Robert Kroetsch‟s term) is not necessarily—at least not only—its length, but the length of time over which it is composed, and the extended period over which it makes its appearance in print. Life-long poems typically take decades to write, and are typically published serially, as multi-volume projects. Thus they implicate a certain degree of commitment—from their authors, but also from their publishers, and even readers—as well as engaging the work and its participants in a process of deferral: the poem one reads, piece-meal, is understood as provisional, incomplete in its particular manifestation, with more of it to come—even possibly its hypothetical completion—in future manifestations.
The Barricades Project, the Life-Long Poem, and the Politics of Form