Jared and Dave have already grappled with the question of opacity in poetry with far more eloquence than I’ll be able to muster here, but what a good question! And one that touches on some of the issues that have impacted the way that I think about poetry in the past few years.
Dave writes in his post, “The poem is both question and answer. But a question and answer that only occur in the reader.” To me, this means that a poem can be as opaque as it wants to be, and so long as the individual reader derives some kind of feeling from the poem, it has succeeded in connecting with the reader. This connection is, I think, the main achievable thing that poetry can do.
But! If the goal in writing a poem is to connect with the reader, it can become difficult to write without keeping an imaginary reader in mind. The trick of thinking too much about imaginary reader r in mind is that eventually one might start to wonder, why write a poem at all? I think poetry should be reserved for things that can only be expressed in poems. If I can figure out a way to say what I want to say in prose, I should probably go ahead and do that. So keeping the reader in mind as I write is a sure path to a flat-footed poem, or none at all.
Since I began exploring journalism, not thinking about the reader too much has become a major stumbling block. When I’m writing an article or book review, I’m attempting to anticipate questions the reader might ask and answer them clearly and succinctly; not exactly the recipe for creative verse.
Maybe the solution is to write blindfolded to the future, with no articulable goals in mind, and hope that when real-life reading does take place, “implicit comprehension” will arise. And if it doesn’t, revision is the time for me to dig the reader a couple of secret passages.