Jordan weights in on clarity, a topic that can make poets nervous. One default assumption among some of our more opaque writers seems to be that all clarity is bad clarity -- unconscious patterns of communication which reinforce power structures through faulty associations. This take on clarity is more about the institutional maintenance of categories of thought, mass psychology and suggestibility. It’s not about clarity per se.
What is bad opacity? Rumsfeld’s poetry embodies opacity as calculated obfuscation. The language he used in the press conference where he told soldiers they should get used to dying because it’s not convenient for him to deal with getting armor for vehicles is in exactly the same register as his poetry and press conferences. When he was caught off guard and out of context, though, the obfuscational power of the language, the suggestive vagueness, broke down. It’s all about the framing.
Is vagueness, a factor so prevalent and yet presently so un-discussed from within avant-garde poetry, parallel in some way to the Rumsfeld thing? Create vague word sequences and frame them in such a way that people accept the whole shbang as social power? Is this acceptable as a mirror-critique, or could this be thought of as a mere symptom?
Is there an element of the anti-social which operates separately from clarity as such? Ashbury or Tina Darragh can be very unclear but neither ever sounds anti-social. Can the genX punk concept of antisocial as a good thing -- a big NO -- be said to apply to obscure poetry? Maybe not, since Punk was simple and antisocial and that’s why it worked. It was extremely clear.
Cecil Taylor is difficult, baroque and anti-social, and covers a wide spectrum from unclear to lucid. Maybe difficulty, or challenge, should also be separated from questions of clarity. Ninja Gaiden is considered very challenging, but it’s also very popular. Some of the more challenging poets I like, Carla Harryman, Alan Davies, etc. rarely strike me as unclear.
I do like some unclear poetry (David Melnick anyone?). I am also very uncomfortable with the idea that challenging writing has to be a collectors’ cult you have be initiated into and have to pay a tithe for – poetry as antisocial in a bad way.
If I look at clear poetry that I dislike, it’s never because of the clarity. It’s because of the cluelessness, awkwardness, and bland pandering.