Long Distance Poems

Matthew Dickman

I love long distance runners.

I love them because they do something I couldn’t imagine doing. They’re beautiful. They not only endure but also say something in the act of their run, something about the possibilities of the human body.

And it’s this sense of possibility, of an ecstatic vision, that draws me to long poems. And by long poems I mean over twenty pages and up to a whole book. In these United States we have some incredible (and famous) examples. Thomas McGrath’s Letter To an Imaginary Friend and Frank Stanford’s The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You are two Jazz Odyssey Up-All-Night illustrations. Though it’s much, much, shorter than those two tombs (coming in at just under sixty-three pages), the emotional weight and heartbreaking beauty of Alex Phillips’s Crash Dome (Factory Hollow Press, 2010) can certainly mingle at the same poetry party:

“The machines, the get warmer,

you start glowing, they keep humming,

just humming, whatever happens

to your soul up there happens,

the soul, the little adventurer in us,

our contents, expiration date,

no robotic arms or levers,

they hum and warm you into existence,

out of existence, like a remarkable caffeine

buzz, like the sound of lawnmowers,

but they don’t drive you crazy,

they make you happy.”

And so the strange, expanding other-universe of Crash Dome begins. There are no stanza breaks in this stunning work. That is to say there is no rest for the soul of the reader, that little adventurer, nor will you want one. Crash Dome is a weird exciting scary world because in so many ways it is also our world.

Alex Phillips’s book length poem is a gorgeous long distance runner. Everyone should pick up a copy of this book, have over a group of friends, open a bottle of wine, and go on a journey. I promise, you will not be the same when you come home.