Todd Swift's Eyewear review of Seamus Heaney set me to thinking about the question of how different people seem to appreciate different things. http://toddswift.blogspot.com/2010/08/humourless-chain.html There often seems to be a mutual incomprehesion of two different kinds of poetry. In the comment stream, Mark Granier seems to see things in Heaney's poetry that Todd can't see. If I read Heaney, I'd probably feel the same as Todd, I suspect.
Alan Baker puts this difference down to the "increasing sophistication" of the reader of nonmainstream poetries: just as we widen out taste in music to include more difficult pieces as we get older. But I'm unhpapy with this formulation, because it involves a value judgement. It says, nay shouts, "I'm better than you," at the unsophisticated reader of mainstream poetry, who is presumed to be less intelligent, lazy or, even worse, terribly bourgeois and accepting of the comfortable status quo. Instead of being made to think viz a viz language and meaning creation, instead of seeing how meaning is a social product etc etc... they prefer a slice of 'social realism lite', the comforting feeling of being given an insight into the human condition that isn't too different from other very similar insights, an over-described slice of life etc etc...
But then the non-mainstreamer tells us things about language that we already know, doesn't he/she? Don't we all know about the way language is manipulated by adevertising/capitalism/etc etc and isn't it just a bit boring? And why don't they make some concession to ordinary readers, instead of using all these jump-cuts and juxtapositions etc etc?
You can see how the argument goes. I personally can see where this is coming from, and am in definite sympathy with it. But, Janus-like, I can often find myself thinking that yes, there's something in the other point of view too. There are times when I read non-mainstream poetry when I get somewhat tired of being told about language and meaning creation as a social product, etc etc and just want 'a good read.' Maybe not Heaney; I still don't like his little epiphanies about the human condition; but maybe Reznikoff: his social realisms are never 'lite', but his narratives are simple, direct, "unsophisticated." But beautiful: moving, often on the edge of despair but also hopeful. And he never leaves us with any neat insights into the human condition to make us feel good about ourselves; instead you work out your insights for yourself.
In the Starbucks I'm writing this from, there's jazz trumpet coming through the speakers. Jazz is my favourite music; it's "sophisticated." But I also like pop music sometimes. Jazz fans sometims look down at "pop" fans for being "unsophisticated"; not unlike nonmainstreamers looking down their noses at mainstreamers. So I haven't really learnt why one person like Heaney, and finds great depth in him; and another thinks it's nothing that wasn't done in the 19th century. Or another likes JH Prynne while someone else finds him just incomprehensible. In can't just be to do with one person being better than another, can it?