Should Poetry Be Opaque?

Feb 10 2013 @ 2:41pm

Peter Popham argues that Geoffrey Hill is perhaps the great living British poet but also one of the most under-read. Why? Hill’s dense, difficult style, and the lingering “stigma of elitism”:

Why should we expect to understand poems at a single sitting, as if poetry were under the jurisdiction of the Plain English Campaign? We think nothing of exerting ourselves to learn a language or master a new software program – why should it be regarded as anachronistic to demand a fraction of such effort to understand a poem? If a poet has something to teach, poetry lovers should be prepared to make the effort to learn.

Hill has never worn his politics on his sleeve but he is clear about the dangers of deliberate simplification, quoting the dictum that “tyrants always want a language and a literature that is easily understood”. “Tyranny requires simplification,” he maintains. “Genuinely difficult art is truly democratic.”