trying to say everything

When reacting to a poem, the word "perfect" is inadequate for the same reason that the word "wow" would be. But it isn't inadequate because it says nothing. It is inadequate because it is trying to say everything. On a second reading, we begin to deduce that our first reading was complex, even if it seemed simple. Scores of judgments were going on, too quickly for us to catch but adding up to a conviction—first formed early in the piece and then becoming more and more detailed—that this object's mass of material is held together by a binding force. Such a binding force seems to operate within all successful works of art in any medium, like a singularity in space that takes us in with it, so that we can't pay attention to anything else, and least of all to all the other works of art that might be just as powerful. We get to pay attention to them only when we recover.

- Clive James, from "On Second Reading" from the January 2009 issue of POETRY. You can read the whole thing here, again with it's title changed for the online issue... I'm not sure what their obsession is with that...

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