While reading Karen Russell’s stellar hit, Swamplandia!, I did a double take.
I know the book is intended to be a novel and it certainly reads like one. It has a story: a beginning, a middle, an end; a protagonist, a climax, etc. Despite these facts, Swamplandia! reads, to me, like one big, epic poem.
Nowadays we rarely see long poems in the poetry world. What happened to those epics, like the Iliad, which frame western literary history as we know it? I think perhaps they’ve dissolved into a certain kind of novel —one that reads like poetry and presents as a novel. One of the reasons for this “re-formatting” may be the publishing industry’s preference for novels over shorter forms of writing, and all of poetry, in general. Writers know it’s certainly more lucrative to write 300 pages then to write 100, and to produce full-length novels rather than novellas. This preference is uniquely contemporary, and for that reason, I seem to stumble upon true poetry in the novels of certain modern and contemporary writers.