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Padel on Difficulty

05/01/2007

I like what Ruth Padel has to say about the so-called difficulty of poetry in her comment article last Saturday’s Guardian:

Poetry, in other words, is not only good for you, and protects us against meaninglessness: by the pleasure it gives in its artifice, images and imagination, and in the little nudgy sensual relationships between words and sounds that hint at new ideas, poetry augments and reflects our delight in the world.

Isn’t it difficult? Not more than we are. Our complicated lives (not to speak of the LCD display on the gym treadmill) are much more difficult than most poems. We are difficult to ourselves, difficult to each other. But OK, yes, some poetic artefacts can be slightly labour-intensive. Wallace Stevens said a poem should “resist the intelligence, almost successfully” and good poems are rarely explicit. They want you to discover what you feel for yourself and don’t do simplification. If you simplify, says the Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti, you “misrepresent what’s human at the moment of pretending to celebrate it”. Taking “the accessible and the easy” out of the human condition, you “blur that condition instead of defining it”.

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