Showing posts with label Difficult poetry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Difficult poetry. Show all posts

Friday, April 18, 2008

Thread: What Makes Meaning?


(The poet, who wishes to remain anonymous, originally submitted this poem for critique, which appears in its own critique thread. He/she has graciously granted permission to to repost it as a starting point for a discussion thread.

The poet believes that the meaning of the following poem should be "obvious," but is it? If not, should it matter?

When do confusing images and allusions blur the artistic qualities of a poem?

On the other hand, what if the meaning of a poem is too obvious? Does that, too, subtract from the artistic qualities?

In the end, what makes meaning?

This is a discussion thread. If you wish to critique this specific poem, click here)


A superfortress glides

the catwalk,

head high, torpedo chest--patent

black punctuates a bomb-

shell, a sleek silhouette.

A power walker well-heeled.

The stiletto elongates the leg,

raises the arch.

Hips thrust hereafter

sway like a pendulum.


It’s Barbie,

prize on a pedestal,

dolly style.

Bally style.

Versace, Prada, Chanel, Dior, Uggs, Gucci–

D-squared is not a formula.

Coach. No

she never does coach.



Early morning.

A-Bomb in the morning.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Forum Thread: Does the Difficulty of Modern Poetry Mask Its Underlying Superficiality?

In 2008, The Writer's Chronicle published a timely article: "On Difficulty in Poetry," by Reginald Shepherd. In his introduction, Mr. Shepherd says, "It's been the fashion at least since the Modernists to complain that contemporary poetry has become difficult, and that this difficulty has alienated the readers who used to flock to poetry as they now flock to John Grisham novels and American Idol" (8).

Then he refers to enduring difficult poets of the past: Shakespeare and Donne--though I would contend that these poets were not considered difficult back when they were writing their plays and poems. They're considered difficult now because their works are written in English not commonly used today.

Shepherd believes that poetry ought to challenge the reader and that total understanding of a poem is not necessary. Sometimes it's enough to appreciate the language, allusions, and structure, even when meaning eludes. He even says, "...the poem that alludes frequently eludes" (10). In other words, meaning is secondary to how a reader experiences a poem, intellectually, emotionally, and sensually.

Up to this point, I agree. "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is definitely an elusive poem worth reading and rereading and pondering because underneath all the fancy language, allusions, metaphors, there is substance, a universality of human experience and mortality.

However, as I read some modern poems, I get the distinct feeling that they hide their underlying superficiality behind difficult language--that a poet's walk down Fifth Avenue, during which his contemplation of his grocery list has been interrupted by an ill-timed bomb by an overhead bird will not be enhanced by complicated allusions to Prometheus.

Shepherd says, "Poems considered difficult often allude to material outside the common literary or intellectual frame of reference. Modern poetry is particularly difficult in its wide range and idiosyncratic, often inexplicit, deployment of allusion" (13).

Perhaps that is debatable; what I see in modern poetry is a tendency toward sameness, a flat affect, a self-indulgent contemplation about nothing masked by high-toned literary language: all style, little substance.

The question posed here: "Does the Difficulty of Modern Poetry Mask Its Underlying Superficiality?"

Feel free to comment.


Shepherd, Reginald. The Writer's Chronicle," May/Summer 2008, Vol. 40, Number 6, 8-14.

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