August 2009


Two spirits preside over most of what I’ve done in what has been genrified since 1992’s Flash Fiction:

These were my stereoptic lenses for re/viewing the South many years after the Depression/New Deal, and a country/century away from Follain’s childhood. I wrote a bunch of character/cityscape sketches around New Orleans–on Jackson Square park benches, on the Desire/Elysian Field busline, on Royal Street, in the Napolean Bar, in a Rent-a-Wreck car among the projects where the Prytaneum was envisioned, and never built.

In a way it was exorcism: to flush the narcissism of the generational  McPoem diagnosed by Donald Hall. I gave up poetry’s first-person (and much abused)  lyrical spotlight for fiction’s third-person invisible point of view. I  hid my experience, buried my feelings in the blink of perception–tried to ‘blend into the tapestry,’ as Zbigniew Herbert characterized his unfortunate valet. Fundamentally, I wanted to import Barthes’  camera lucida to portray a culture anyone could recognize no matter how far outside it they dwelled.

Funding for this project (finally published as The Effigies) came from the North Carolina Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. A fair sample of The Effigies can be gleaned online via the “Robert Hill Long” quote-google; since I no longer have the files in a format my Mac can digest, I won’t post any here for the time being.

However, the documentary character sketch in cityscape–as collected in that book, 50 pieces designed to be coherent in narrative tone and voice and culture –is just one of the ways I have deployed short prose.

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Formally speaking ::

I’ve always liked making a conscious game of form, if only to let the rest of the poem remain beneath the surface, sounding whatever obscure subconscious depths, until it emerges–until story merges with form, verbal music  with metaphor, premonition with memory. I treat form as the motion of emotion–its pace, its pauses–throughout the poem, and as a structure the poem’s story inhabits: its walls, doors, windows, hidden wiring, its hidden but regular beams and joists. Form is musical, choreographic, and architectural. It’s a tangible, gradual, building pleasure–unlike other work of poetry, the restless, associative, obsessive, elusive grasping after shapeshifting images/phrasings: the attempts to embrace a ghost in elysium. (more…)

–> Selections from RHL books <–

Web del Sol :: 20 pieces from The Work of the Bow and The Effigies back in the 90s.  Bow‘s short narrative poems, mostly concerning family, fatherhood, love and loss, differ in form if not tone from the elegiac flash fiction sketches of New Orleans neighborhoods and characters in The Effigies.

Both books are findable via Amazon, ABEbooks, etc., and in libraries around the country via WorldCat. Much of The Work of the Bow can be read as a Googlebooks preview. (I’m still the best source for either of these books–signed, sealed, delivered, they’re your$.)

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The Power to Die (1987), took its title from the last stanza of Emily Dickinson’s #754 (“My Life had stood–a Loaded Gun”). The only poem from that book on the web is the final, 5-part elegy for McKendree Robbins Long: “Grandfather Long the Last Time”. Have a look at his best-known painting, “Apocalyptic Scene with Philosophers,” at the North Carolina Museum of Art. (more…)