This essay explores the ethical stakes of poetic difficulty, focusing on images of impeded access and remote interiority in poems that dramatize encounters with matters that resist comprehension. Following Barbara Johnson's suggestion that having both an inside and an outside makes the “thing, the human, the poem, and indeed language itself” into metaphors for each other (Feminist Difference 130), this essay takes the link between poetic difficulty and images of occlusion as a way to broach the difficulties of entering into alien experience by way of lyric poems. More broadly, it finds in imagined encounters with resistant interiors answers to the question of what it means to want to know, to understand, or to relate to an other and argues that, in the face of irrevocable remoteness, poetry's potential for repair resides in the restoration rather than resolution of its resistance. The essay begins with a brief overview of recent theories of poetic difficulty, finding in the personifications and anthropomorphic metaphors of interiority that appear in those theories evidence of the ways in which we project agency, will, and moral choice onto poems that resist our attempts to grasp them. It then explores the workings of such resistance — particularly its renegotiation of the divide between interior and exterior, self and other, which anthropomorphic projections seek to overcome — in poems by William Butler Yeats, Jorie Graham, Wisława Szymborska, Francis Ponge, and Anne Carson. The essay argues that, like D.W. Winnicott's transitional object, resistant poems open a space between interior and exterior worlds, a space of “experiencing” that helps one learn to tolerate frustration, separation, loss, and reality.
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Research Article| June 01 2012
For Want of a Door: Poetry's Resistant Interiors
Comparative Literature (2012) 64 (2): 207–229.
Melissa Feuerstein; For Want of a Door: Poetry's Resistant Interiors. Comparative Literature 1 June 2012; 64 (2): 207–229. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00104124-1590146
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