This post was first published in 2012, on a previous blog of mine, Neon and Rainbows, which I have long since abandoned.
Is contemporary poetry too obscure?
“I’m worried that when I show intelligent people a contemporary poem which I think quite simple, they frequently find it baffling. We seem to have lost the art of speaking directly to the reader. Today’s poetry is sophisticated, multi-layered and sometimes brilliant. But, when you are not waving but drowning, whose verses come into your mind?” – Merryn Williams, June 2003 – quotation taken from the editorial of The Interpreter’s House, a small press magazine for poetry and short stories
Interesting words – and certainly not without truth.
Another small press editor once told me that I had some good ideas, but that I needed to bury my meanings under a few more layers, and make the reader dig for them. I can’t remember precisely how he worded it, but the advice was certainly along those general lines. Ironically, when I do write metaphorically, I can have problems with my work being taken too literally – and when I write literally, it’s often assumed that I am being metaphorical.
Misunderstandings aside, however, the question remains: Must poetry be obscure? Is modern poetry, in fact, too obscure, and not accessible to the general reader?
Well, it’s a question of personal tastes. I don’t believe that there’s any lack of accessible poetry out there. Perhaps such poetry is too readily dismissed by critics, however.
Who are poets today writing for: other poets, and those with an academic interest in poetry, exclusively?
In many cases, sadly – yes. There is some middle ground, however. The layers of deeper meaning may well be present in poetry which also offers something on the surface level. Surely, in many respects, this is the ideal?
At the same time, most of us don’t consciously think, “I’m going to be obscure today,” or, “I’m going to write something really accessible.”
Inspiration doesn’t quite work that way – and I do still talk about inspiration, in connection with writing. Whilst self-discipline is undeniably important, inspiration is vital – but probably the inspiration/self-discipline debate would require a blog post, in its own right. I will add it to my mental “must blog about” list, which is growing daily.
My writing journey post may be of interest.
Other posts on this blog, relating to poetry: