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John Tranter’s 2012 Tapa Notebook Page —

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he called a long poem, the / Argonautica; in fact an / epyllion or short epic. Wikipedia / says: ‘The Argonautica differs in / some respects from traditional of / Homeric Greek epic, though / Apollonius certainly used Homer / as a model. The Argonautica / is shorter than Homer’s epics, / with four books totalling less / than 6,000 [six thousand] lines, while the / Iliad runs to more than / 16,000.’ [sixteen thousand]. It was also written / down instead of memorised./ Most modern long poems are / Epyllia / [ below: picture of ladybird bugs ] /

Commentary: I like the concept that most modern long poems are Epyllia. And of course the shorter poems are Lyrics. Both Ancient Greek words, appropriately enough. We use the word ‘Lyrics’ to mean the words we sing to the music of a guitar, just as the Ancient Greek word ‘lyrics’ meant the words one sang to the music of a lyre, early fore-runner of the guitar. And the scholar Apollonius was not only the author of the great story about Jason and the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece, he was also Director of the Great Library. His erstwhile teacher, Callimachus (accent on the second syllable) was a prior Director and the two quarrelled about (what else?) the ideal length of poems. Apollonius opined they should be the length of the average epyllion; Callimachus, skilled at brief lyrics, chose the brief length of the lyric. The argument was long-lasting, furious, famous and totally serious. Of course. Should poems be Long or Short? Wait a minute… that’s what we are here to answer.

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These are scans of pages of a Tapa Notebook, filled out by Australian poet John Tranter for the University of Auckland Library. It recounts his experiences in Auckland in March 2012 at the University’s symposium ‘Short Takes on Long Poems’. John has published an internet journal with similar material. This Notebook has the advantage of handwriting, doodles, decoupage and lots of colourful New Zealand stamps. Copyright Notice: Please respect the fact that all the material on this site is copyright © and the individual authors 2012 to 2016 et seq. It is made available here without charge for personal study and enjoyment by individuals only. It may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced, or used for any other purpose.


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