Thinking this morning about the long poem, Forth of July. Finished 8 years ago.
The poem was written within the context of other American long poems - Paterson, Maximus, "A", Cantos, The Bridge... and also with older epics in mind.
Maybe one of the distinctive qualities of Forth of J is how it conveys an impression of vastness. I don't think you find this so much in the other poems, despite their wealth of allusions & references. Pound writes with a kind of notation, a lightning-like shorthand. Maximus, perhaps, has something vast in quality, but Olson retains that sort of Heraclitean gnomic notation-style he gets from Pound. & Zukofsky displays a kind of incantatory music... but my poem has a different sense of space. A midwestern, Great Plains, oceanic sense...
I am sort of proud of this. The three "books" of the poem - Stubborn Grew, The Grassblade Light, July - are 3 distinct large panels, but they circle back & around each other; there's a directional flow as well. The middle book, Grassblade, is made with 7 chapters - like enormous singing frescoes, each one unique, but fitting together.
This oceanic vastness, this sort of singing joy... this is what I wanted to convey. It's a big vast happy poem. July, the 3rd book, is a sort of galactic explosion (fireworks).
I think at the root of what I am trying to do in poetry, over all these years, is an effort to express a special kind of spiritual joy, or joy in the spirit - and point toward its origins or foundations. It was a joy or exuberance I recognized immediately in Mandelstam, who has been like the Virgilian guide to me over decades. But it has its true origins in mysterious Christian charismatic experiences stretching back almost 40 years now.
I am trying to provide, in my poetry, both a literary-artistic model and a kind of poetic-rational-historical basis or argument or explanation or defense, for a way of understanding life. The spiritual joy has to do with a belief in the divine presence and work in the world and in history : the kind of brotherly-sisterly joy and charity which has its root in God, in Christ. A belief in the drama of earthly history as a whole : which is a kind of heroic-georgic restoration of the earth and mankind to a right relationship with God, the source, the creator. A belief in the ultimately personal, conscious and unified character of this dream we call life. In this view, God is Person, not in a sense that limits the divine to what we experience in an ordinary human sense - but rather in a way that lifts our own conception of what the personal and the Person might be to a higher, inter-personal, trans-personal, relational, spiritual and mysterious level. The fundamental work of this Person is compassionate healing, forgiveness & restoration - lifting us from our scattered narrow desires toward wholeness, the integration & healing of life as a whole. And history is the working-out of the restoration of the earth by the dramatic intervention of the "divine" in history. The confidence in this dramatic play-script of history is one of the streams feeding that sense of spiritual joy.
This is not to say, by any means, that the poem, Forth of July, is just some kind of religious tract... In fact the reader may find it difficult to square my general statements of purpose with the actuality of the poems. In my view, that's all to the good - since the work is primarily a record of artistic making, a grappling with poetry itself.