by Kaplan Harris
A Reading is Beverly Dahlen's long prose poem in progress since 1978. Following the publication strategy of long poems like The Cantos, Passages, and Drafts, Dahlen has collected the unfolding subsections in a series of standalone editions, from the inaugural edition A Reading, 1-7 (Momo's Press, 1985) to last year's unnumbered chapbook A Reading: Birds (little red leaves, 2011). What distinguishes Dahlen's poem from comparable long poems is her resistance to publishing the standalone editions until after a protracted interval of deferment and revision. Theorizing this interval—in several cases they ferment more than two decades—invites a range of interventions identified with avant-garde and avant-feminist poetics: simulation of messianic time, estrangement of the "author function," suppression of the lyrical ego, and more. Further, Dahlen's delayed publishing strategy invites comparison to Arthur Rimbaud, Emily Dickinson, Laura (Riding) Jackson, George Oppen, Robert Duncan, and a host of other poets who turn away from writing or publishing on political and aesthetic grounds. Dahlen does, of course, send her work out in the world, but not before she projects or hurls it into a future time far outside the present of writing. I list below the book editions to date and a table indicating dates and places of composition (cited at the end of each section), dates of revision (also cited at the end of each section), and book publication dates. The number of years before publication is listed in the far right column.
A Reading, 1-7 (San Francisco, CA: Momo's Press, 1985)
A Reading 8-10 (Tuscon, AZ: Chax Pres, 1992)
A Reading (11-17) (Elmwood, CT: Potes & Poets Press, 1989)
A Reading 18-20 (Boulder, CO: Instance Press, 2006)
A-Reading Spicer & Eighteen Sonnets (Tuscon, AZ: Chax Press, 2004)