Rattling the Dilettantes

“A successful poem – no less a cryptic one – should not be a mere launching pad for dollops of explanatory cock-waddle. Like the falling tree in an empty forest, a poem is capable of its own noise, thank you very much. One can go further and suggest that a full understanding – so-called clarity – is the province of prose and not poetry at all. After all, why write a poem in the first place if the desired artistic effect lends itself better to prose? Why not write an essay instead? In his wilful exclusion of certain narrative elements critical to a linear understanding, T S Eliot reserved for himself oodles of fun: There is no decoder ring. But keep looking because I’m busting a gut watching you guys scramble for it.

Thank you to Norman Bell writing in the current issue of “Rattle”. How many poems have been ruined by a curriculum-led teacher’s insistence on examining the poem line by line, word for word, leaving pupils mystified as to why they even bother trying to get into a art form that clearly wasn’t for them? Would “The Waste Land” have survived the typical poetry workshop? Of course, this is not an argument in support of wilful obscurism. Neither does it excuse evocative sounding lines shaped into something that looks like a poem but fails to read like one.


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