Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Who's Ready for a Trust Fall?

Reading William Logan's 1999 essay "Four or Five Motions Toward a Poetics" this morning, I was struck by his discussion of the "trust" between reader and poem. "Trust," he writes, "... is the poem's ability to proceed without distracting the reader with clumsiness of technique, while offering benefit to the reader's imagination equal to or exceeding the energy expended in reading." Essentially, he characterizes "trust" as that which keeps the reader going when she or he has no idea what the poet is talking about. The reader continues in good faith, with the assumption that some illumination will come later. Readers whose trust is rewarded, he suggests, will tolerate increasingly greater risks.

For many, Logan is a controversial (some would say reviled) figure in poetry, but I think the contract between poet and reader is worth keeping in mind. I think it provides at least some explanation for why contemporary poetry is not more widely read; readers, whose trust has been betrayed by poems that lead them into labyrinths and funhouses, can hardly be expected to follow without hesitation. That's not to say that poems must avoid labyrinths and funhouses completely, only that, eventually, they have to show the reader the way out.

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