Difficulty and Modern Poetry



This article examines and expands upon criticism on difficulty, in literature and in other arts, in order to gain theoretical and practical perspective on key questions relating to modern poetry and to poetic difficulty (if not to difficulty in all art). Topics addressed include: the implications of ‘difficulty’ as concept and term, the importance of modernism to our understanding and evaluation of difficulty, what characterizes modern difficulty (difficulty since romanticism), how to account for modern difficulty, how difficulty informs and is informed by postmodern and other perspectives since modernism, the significance and qualities of poetic difficulty, the theoretical challenges of discussing difficulty as something experience by a reader (rather than as an intrinsic property of a text), and difficulty as an aesthetic (a topic that involves discussion of simplicity as an aesthetic and discussion of difficulty as a necessary aesthetic). Beyond its theoretical and historical claims regarding modern poetry, difficulty, and modernism, this article argues for more sustained consideration of the experience of reading in interpretation and for more nuanced aesthetic evaluation in criticism.