West Virginia University Press, 2007
Paper: 978-1-933202-12-9
Library of Congress Classification PS309.E64M64 2007
Dewey Decimal Classification 811.5409


In this new, scholarly text—an ambitious study of contemporary poetics—Joe W. Moffett deciphers the twentieth-century long poem, searching for a better understanding of why long-poem writers are preoccupied with a search for origins.

Moffett focuses on issues like postcolonialism, nation, modernism, and postmodernism. He conceptualizes his theories by using what he calls “originiary moments”: historical periods or specific events from which a poet contends our culture descends. These moments enlighten and inspire the modern poet to use origin or “source” as a way to examine present culture and social conditions. The poems also encourage modern readers to question, revise, and repudiate. Moffett organizes his argument by arranging specific examples into three categories of originary moments: Sumerian, Homeric, and Anglo-Saxon.

According to Moffett, the long poem is appealing because it “lacks strict conventions that govern other genres.” Using a wide variety of poems to support his arguments, Moffett asks many stimulating questions and also provides provocative answers.

Questions of when and where It All Began have been off the critical agenda for some time now, embargoed by poststructuralism. Undeterred, Joe Moffett boldly revisits the search for cultural origins, which preoccupied major poets throughout the twentieth century. Capacious in his scope, eclectic in his choices, Moffett rounds up unusual subjects, including long poems by Armand Schwerner, Derek Walcott, Geoffrey Hill, and Judy Grahn, with excursions into Charles Olson, Seamus Heaney, and others. Nowhere will you find clearer, more intelligent, or better-informed readings of these poems than Moffett’s.