Rethinking of difficulty

Like poet Charles Bernstein, who addresses the myth of poetry’s difficulty in Attack of the Difficult Poems (2011), Jane Hirshfield argues for a rethinking of difficulty as a ‘‘path towards concentration’’. She notes Sartre called genius ‘‘not a gift, but the way a person invents in difficult ­circumstances’’.

Ten Windows offers access to poetry, revealing its light and air, tonic and charge. Hirshfield argues a poem can profoundly affect its reader: its ‘‘startlements displace the existing self with a changed one’’. Edward Hirsch in his similarly ecstatic How to Read a Poem (1999) collects poets’ metaphors of the journey of poem to reader, from Osip Mandelstam’s poet as seafarer and a poem’s ‘‘secret addressee’’ to Paul Celan’s image of the poem as a message in a bottle, only just retaining hope of the shoreline of attentive reading.

Hirsch imagines poetry’s reader — Wallace Stevens’s ‘‘scholar of one candle’’ — as joyful and awed: ‘‘We can hardly turn the page, so much do we linger with pleasure over the ecstatic beginning.’’ / FELICITY PLUNKETT, THE AUSTRALIAN FEBRUARY 13

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