Mr. Silliman, in his post on R.Duncan today, touches on the design of modern long poems, and the vexed question of how parts relate to wholes in these big, often seemingly unbounded "life-works".
Somebody intrepid other than me will have to figure out someday how or how well the 3 books + coda of Forth of July compare/relate to this particular issue. But since that doesn't seem to be happening anytime soon, I will just throw in here that the capability of beginning the poem came from an examination of Mandelstam's sequences of linked short poems & their variants. So the 1st chapter of Stubborn Grew grew out of a sense of the possibility of doing something similar. Then the 2nd chapter ("Ancient Light") took that a step further, creating an autobiographical mini-narrative out of more-closely linked individual pieces. Then the 3rd & 4th chapters ("Once in Paradise" + "Two Cats at the Atheneum") took it another step further, mixing autobiography with both local history and a sort of "magic realism" (the Bluejay walk-on). Thus concluded the 1st Part of Stubborn. The 2nd Part of same also contains 4 chapters, which constitute a kind of retroversion to autobiography mixed with parody (the 1st 2 chapters parody the Cantos; the 4th and last chapter parodies Finnegans Wake). This 4th, Finnegan chapter, basically runs the entirety of the previous sections (Stubborn 1-7) through a Wakean-Viconian ricorso, ie. re-enacts & repeats them through a Joyce-Irish slang machine.
Moving on to Book Two of Forth of July : The Grassblade Light. But I've gone over this ground before on this blog, so I will simply say that this central book of the poem is a highly-configured array of 7 separate-yet-consecutive poems.
Book Three (July) and the Coda (Blackstone's Day-Book), again, have their own distinct design (though the whole poem is structured on a variety of rhymed quatrains). Whether it all works & "makes sense" is for someone else to decide. But I think that the particular way I handle autobiography & narrative & part-to-whole structure tends to aim for a middle ground between the expansive "life-work" (say of Leaves of Grass) and the more autonomous, objectified shape of Crane's Bridge. Zukofsky managed this too, with "A".
But folks, ya know, I'm tellin ya, people like me represent an alternative history of "New American poetry", which has traveled far beneath the radar of the anthologies & the literary historicists & canonizers. They have no idea what I been doin' over there in Forth of July-land & the Island Road sonnets etc.
Poetry : a stone fallen from heaven.
No one judges it.
(I play a lot with this "stone" metaphor in Forth of July, what with "William Blackstone" & his timewarp-boomerang "black stone" at the Dome of the Rock, & the otfe (meteorite) stones of the ark of the covenant, & the glittering "jewel-eye", the "almond" (mandel) of Jubilee at the center of Time. . .)