“My attempt is merely astonishing,” wrote the Epic Poet in a recent email to the Literary Man. “To write the longest poem in the history of the world. To write the best or most erotic poem in the world would be easy, a foregone conclusion, even, but the longest–I can’t say anyone’s ever attempted it.”
The Epic Poet is a literary friend of the Literary Man’s, sure, but his intentions are murky and vague. Well, at least one of his intentions is anything but vague, which is to write the longest poem in the history of the world, but it often seems that the Epic Poet’s secondary goal is to lead the Literary Man into all kinds of unmentionable mischief.
The Epic Poet is the Literary Man’s Tad Allagash. He has something like a sixth-sense for the exact moment when the Literary Man will sit down at his typewriter, with a fresh pot of coffee brewing, on a quiet Friday night, ready to write the Great American Novel, at which point the Epic Poet will arrive or call with news of a literary party whose potential for greatness the Literary Man lacks the will-power to ignore. The Epic Poet is — in ways the Literary man cannot
fathom — irresistible to women. The Epic Poet’s greatest obstacle to completing the longest poem in the history of the world is that beautiful wealthy women constantly demand too much of him, sexually and artistically, often flying him to Vail or Cannes, where the Epic Poet is introduced to lavish literary salons, tigers, and middle-aged actresses whose years of physical glory have come and gone. The Epic Poet juggles his patronesses like a plumber juggling housewives. His dream is to write the longest poem in the history of the world, but his patronesses are more interested in paying him for oral performances of his craft. They do not care about the written word; they want to feel his art.
And yet, not all is fun and games in the life of the Epic Poet. Last fall the Literary Man foolishly invited the Epic Poet to the Literary Magazine’s holiday affair. All night the Epic Poet appeared uncharacteristically frazzled and unkempt. He was so nervous and unpoetic that the Literary Man confronted him about his unedited ways. It was then that the Epic Poet pointed out the source of his angst: the Poetry Editor of the Literary Magazine.
A certain type of man exists in the Literary World: the man for whom literature is means of compensation. To wit: this type of man purses literature as a means of rectifying some inner demon or personal shortcoming. For instance, it’s possible he has never made a sports team; or he is the son of wealthy parents but is personally and pathetically incapable of earning anything on his own; he is horrible-looking; or he’s average looking but with red hair; women find him repellent, but for reasons he can never fully understand. For this man, the world of literature offers a field of meritocracy where one’s verbal muscle matters most, and one’s social graces — and physical appearance — serve a secondary role.
The Poetry Editor of the Literary Magazine is such a man. He is short. His red hair is curly and clownish. He wears glasses and — outside the friendly confines of the Literary Magazine — no woman would dare touch him with a ten-foot poem. But inside the Literary Magazine, the Poetry Editor is a like a Greek God of Guile and Goethe. He wields his wordy sword with deftness and delight. He receives all kinds of poems in the mail every day — including the longest poem in the history of the world (an early draft) — and rejects them with impunity.
It took the Epic Poet a few drinks to admit that his bitter hatred of the Poetry Editor stemmed from the warrantless rejection of his beloved longest poem. But there it is: a literary feud. A poetry duel. Round one has gone to the Poetry Editor of the Literary Magazine. Round two has yet to take place, as the Epic Poet is planning his next attack, writing, or at least trying to write in between international first-class flights, his next and possibly greatest draft of the longest poem in the history of the world.