Opaque & Obscure Poetry

People have a wide variety of taste in poetry, but the common person’s taste in poetry is usually very different from the taste of self-declared poets and people who love poetry. The common person generally does not like most poetry — and for good reasons.  Much of poetry is opaque and obscure. In this way, when it comes to poetry, I am very much a common person.

As Ted Kooser states, “[Good poetry] keep obstacles between [the poet] and [the reader] to a minimum.”

Here are just some ways many poets build obstacles to make their poetry opaque, obscure:

1. Elusive Allusions: The poet alludes to private experiences or emotions without given the reader enough to understand. Or they may allude to literature, events or such which the average reader knows nothing about.

2. Intellectual Pretense: The writers who use complex vocabulary or very flowery uncommon language.

3. Post-Modern Nonsense: where the poet eschews meaning. Intentionally flooding the poem with incoherent images and vocabulary as if trying to make an aloof philosophical statement.

Testing for Obscurity:
If a reader needs to read the poem more than twice before they feel that they essentially understand the poem, then you can be almost certain you have found an obscure or opaque poem.

Other importance criticism for poetry being unappealing:

  1. Intense Moribund Romanticism: a style popular at one time, but lost on most readers today. (see Gioia, 1991).

Question to reader: Tell us your thoughts about poetry you don’t like, or about obscurity.


  • Can Poetry Matter? — by Dana Gioia, 1991 (a classic essay on the decline of the influence of poetry).

1 Comment

Filed under Philosophy & Religion

One response to “Opaque & Obscure Poetry

  1. MNL

    I like poetry but it’s something I grew to like over time. I am fine with poetry that isn’t clear because what happens is the meaning of the poem can change depending on how I am feeling, my own experiences. Part of that is that I don’t think it matters what the writer intended. As a writer it can be disturbing how differently a reader might interpret one of my poems but once a poem leaves the pen, it belongs to the reader and whatever they make of it. It matters what the poem means to you, the reader, now and it’s fine that tomorrow it might mean something completely different.

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