on poems suspicious of meaning

from “Association in Poetry” by Carl Phillps in his essay collection The Coin of the Realm. Emphasis is mine.

Part of the point in the associative poem is that the reader should be unsettled, should not know at first what to make of what has been read. As poets, when we liken X to Y—unless we are resorting to cliche—we are presumably the first to have made such a connection. Which means it may not be immediately intelligible to the reader—but it should be eventually accessible. Otherwise, we are guilty of a self-indulgence that, it seems to me, mars much contemporary American poetry, producing work that calls itself oblique or mysterious or vatic, when in fact it is merely obfuscated, not very well thought-out, is suspicious of meaning, and privileges the arty over art itself. However, when applied successfully, the associative method makes for a poetry that demands—both of poet and reader—that the mind be athletic, not just able to negotiate the leaps, but able to find in such leaps restorative vigor that is among the pleasures of reading great poetry.


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