What’s the point?

I’ve been reading a lot of complicated, obscure poetry lately.  The ultimate goal of poetry must be to communicate, not just clearly, but as directly as possible.  The trouble is that the urge to communicate often clashes with the urge to be clever.  How does this happen?

Poetry aims for the most effective, impactful communication by evoking a sensation or emotion directly in the reader, rather than through simple assertion.  For example, one could say, “We certainly have a difficult relationship!”  Or, as Emily Dickinson said,

For each ecstatic instant
We must an anguish pay
In keen and quivering ratio
To the ecstasy.

The objective is gained through unusual language, and deft juxtapositioning.  So what often happens is that the technique is mistaken for the message.  It’s like looking at a Chagall painting and getting all caught up in the pretty colors.

It’s there, no doubt about it, but it’s a vehicle.  If it’s not carrying anything, or if the blinding technique obscures the message to the point of invisibility, what’s the point?

Is “Jeez, you’re clever,” all there is to art?

It is possible, of course, that the message is so complex, or so sublime, that it absolutely requires obscurity.  Or that the very act of cracking open a difficult poem evokes that which is meant by it.  In my experience, however, that happens much more rarely than pointless obscurantism.

What do you think?

With regard to veils

A little cross-blog fertilization. My thoughts on opacity in poetry, and what the function of a poem really is. Is it to obscure or to illuminate, and are the two always different? And do these comments even pass their own test?

exiles child

It’s time for a brief holiday from the unscrubbed mirror.

So, I see all this stuff
About life and love
And dying
And how the stars echo
Some frail eternal now

And, yes, it’s hard
And though our hands be held
Entwined but ever separate
That skin that marks the boundary
Also holds the keys
And all that

And all that loss
Was dross
And some plain spun funk
Reminds of deathless agony
So far,
So long
Ago

Okay, I get that,
But just what is my job here, anyway?

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