Why Poetry Is Hard To Read

Literary Notation Seven: Inspired by Blaine Greteman, professor in 16th/17th century literature & the modern social network. 

Poetry isn’t meant to convey an idea, or a message. Putting something in meter or rhyme inherently obscures the basic forms of communication–clarity. Why do texts confuse us? What satisfaction do we get from figuring them out? And at what point does it go too far? You see, Russian Formalists began talking about this precise thing. We interpret works based on our expectations of those works. This is prejudice. But a certain amount of a prejudice is necessary to understand the world. We share these prejudices. If you gave me a full cup, and I looked at this “cup”, and had to figure it out each time, one of us would end up with a face full of misunderstanding.

Poetry disrupts our expectations. Throws in these little surprises, and this constant revisiting and refiguring is good. We like this ultimacy of our decisions. When you watch a movie you know you like over and over again, but hoping there was something you missed the first or seventh time around, just to feel that feeling of surprise again–this is reading Poetry. It makes you aware of the prejudice that you bring to every situation. We simply do not fall into a text. We meet the author halfway–a shared horizon between “What the hell are you saying?” and “Oh, i see what you did there.” We can never know this thing called ‘authorial intent,’ but we can escape from our prejudices (if only for that moment in reading) and reflect on what it means to understand, expect, or read.


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