On difficulty in poetry

Three kinds of difficulty.

Letter: ‘Does My Poetry Have to Be Difficult to Be Real?’

In responding to this week’s letter, I was of two minds on how to respond, and decided, as I’m discovering I do, to respond mostly to the emotional dilemma at hand for the letter-writer. However, I didn’t want to drop the other thoughts entirely, so I wanted to speak more broadly on the idea of difficulty in poetry in a few ancillary notes.

For purposes of example, I will limit my thoughts here to poetry that works in one primary language. And when I say difficult poetry, I speak of poetry in conversation with intellectual work from the academy but also poetry that requires prior knowledge of some sort, technical, intellectual, cultural, subcultural, or spiritual, aside from a rudimentary understanding of the primary language, that plays a major role in understanding the work and that is not obvious to a reader reading a poem without it.

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