Recurring Criticism - words and story

I'm going through old things from school, now that all the papers and presentations and whatnot are done. A critique I've found that comes up a few times from a variety of sources -- creative non-fiction writer's workshop feedback, semester faculty member, workshop leader -- is the notion that the language play that's in my writing and the narrative threads should go further in one direction or another and maybe should not be in the same poem all at once.

"Poetry that makes the most of dropping oblique hints and never giving away the narrative truth succeeds only if the poet's aim, emphasis and goal is something other than imparting narrative."

and also

"It seems to me all these poems are very language-y...Is this what you're attempting? If so, I'm wondering if you want to push them even further out there. And if not, if you want the reader to know a little bit about what's happening, then more connecting the dots could sharpen the narrative."

plus these questions:

"How to give readers a way in and a way to navigate through less linear work? What sorts of work can or should poems require from the reader? The issue that arises: readers don't "like" poems that make them feel "stupid". I like to feel that a poem is making me smarter, wiser, ie that it's stimulating my mind in a some way, not stumping it. On the other hand, we don't want poems to be "dumbed down". We want them to engage us. Challenges. Another of poetry's paradoxes!"

From three different people.

I'm thinking about art because of this. Abstract drawings that incorporate "things" in them. Real "things". Like the work of Lynne Drexler, who was featured at the Portland Museum of Art when I went in January. For instance, this drawing. And, there were more that were even more mixed abstract with scene.

I can't tell if it's that the critiques are just on the close-minded side, that there is a way of doing both, giving a narrative & working the words, or if that's something that "can't" be done. Though, "can't" is a BS thing. Never tell me it can't or shouldn't be done. That just sounds like a challenge rather than an instruction. So, maybe the problem is that I'm not doing it successfully. Or maybe brains aren't open to such a mashup of angles? Or maybe a bit of both.

I think, though, from here on out, that's the thing I have to wrestle with in order to start having that conviction and confidence thing I've noticed that are in the "good" poems, no matter what aesthetic the "good poem" comes from.

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