Michael Shea: You’ve written before about “difficult” poetry and how we shouldn’t accept a “dumbing-down” of poems. What specific value does an intentionally obtuse poem have for you? Is there a point when a poem becomes too difficult to understand to be valued? How does this issue reflect the larger issue of American anti-intellectualism?
Robert Pinsky: I think that if an audience for any art is having a good time, they are willing to suspend the need for comprehension for a while—that’s part of the pleasure. So if the poem by Wallace Stevens or Marianne Moore sounds great, is amusing or engaging or spooky in a way that we like… then like the devotee of opera or rap music or rock music, we are happy to understand only gradually, over many listenings. And if it doesn’t sound good, it is boring even if we understand it. That’s the trouble with a lot of boring art: you understand the stupid cop show, or the tedious sitcom gag, too soon and too completely. Same for the stupid middlebrow poem.
- from an interview in The Southeast Review. Read the whole thing here.