a poem that nobody can understand

“I’d like to be on record as saying that anybody can write a poem that nobody can understand.” –Ted Kooser

Thanks Ted, time to distill some of my recent works which are perhaps examples of the types of poems anybody can write (and nobody can understand). Time to focus on what it is about Billy Collins, David Budbill and other poets who demonstrate great restraint, don’t allow themselves to be carried away or lost in language but are direct and specific and most importantly, are understood.

There’s that type of poetry which I admire and believe is essential in engaging a broader audience for poetry which so often is dismissed as difficult or even incomprehensible. However there are other types of poetry, which require some literary background, whether in linguistics, in literary history/criticism, etc that certainly are challenging to the average reader but that like any great work of literature, worth pushing through the initial challenges to grasp. Some of these challenges are syntax, line break, structure.

I just re-read and have been trying to respond to Danish poet Inger Christensen’s poem alphabet which is certainly challenging due to the juxtaposition of the natural and the made made objects of a post-atomic world but also due to the structure which brings in not only a recursive abecedarian progression but also the numeric Fibonnaci sequence as shown in the first 3 stanzas below.

1
apricot trees exist, apricot trees exist

2
bracken exists; and blackberries, blackberries;
bromine exists; and hydrogen, hydrogen

3
cicadas exist; chicory, chromium,
citrus trees; cicadas exist;
cicadas, cedars, cypresses, the cerebellum

Another structural challenge unfamiliar readers of poetry site is syntax and line breaks which can lead to an uncertainty of the narrative intent. This practice isn’t random or fanciful but intentional and artful as shown in these two short excerpts by Brenda Shaughnessy and Olena Kalytiak Davis.

from Artless

is my heart. A stranger
berry there never was,
tartless.

Gone sour in the sun,
in the sunroom or moonroof,
roofless.

No poetry. Plain. No
fresh, special recipe
to bless.

Brenda Shaughnessy, Our Andromeda

from SWEET READER, FLANNELED AND TULLED

Reader, toward you, loud as a cloud and deaf, Reader, deaf

as a leaf. Reader: Why don’t you turn
pale? and, Why don’t you tremble? Jaded, staid
Reader, You—who can read this and not even

flinch. Bare-faced, flint-hearted, recoilless
Reader, dare you—Rare Reader, listen
and be convinced: Soon, Reader,
soon you will leave me, for an italian mistress:…..

Olena Kalytiak Davis, Shattered sonnets love cards and other
off and back handed importunities

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