This is a link to a talk by the great British poet, J.H. Prynne on the difficulties involved in translating 'difficult' poetry- including his own.
Before proceeding to mangle his arguments, may I advance my own little nugget of wisdom? I may not? Fuck you.
The first thing that struck me was that Prynne reckons Shakespear's Sonnets are a case of difficulty of language being part and parcel of difficult thought. Difficult mark you, not costive, not crapulous, but difficult.
Are there any difficulties of thought in the Sonnets?Well, perhaps, if one wishes to get away from allegory and seeks some psychological or historical information from them. But, isn't that Nineteenth Century historicism gone mad?
Still, let Shakespear's sonnets stand as difficult poetry in the sense that a smart guy like Prynne can get a lot more out of them than a dumb Curry & Chips Cockney.
Not that I didn't like the Sonnets. I read them when I was 19 and thought 'this shit dun be okay'- except I didn't think this thought to myself but to Jack the Ripper as played by Jerry Lewis in that daydream I had when listening to a lecture about the reswitching debate during the War between the 2 Cambridges.
But pace my own difficult thoughts or difficulties in thinking, Prynne brings enormous sensitivity to the entire semantic field and stresses 'choice'- choice of word, choice of image, choice of allusion- as that which defines difficulty. We are far off from the notion of the poet as 'sweet Nature's child, warbling his wood notes wild'- or of poetry as 'sphota', an explosion of meaning, like a boil full of pus which bursts to general merriment and applause.
Equally, the schizophrenic's word-salad and Paranoid, Poundian, pseudo Profundity are not the object of Prynne's meditation- difficulty is neither a mental illness nor a linguistic imposture- on the contrary, Prynne's method makes room for actual Philological scholarship, for attentiveness to genuine advances in the Physical and Social Sciences rather than the schwarmerei of fashionable charlatans,- and as such appears perfectly legitimate and praise-worthy (even if his poems are above our heads).
Prynne's focus on word choice appears, in denying Bhratrhari's sphota theory, to be enamoured of a strong version of Chomskian i-language such that words are more important than their shaping, poets present us with a Cornell box and politely fade away into the aether- rather than getting drunk and trying to have sex with the vacuum cleaner.
However, I feel Prynne still hasn't gone far enough. I think poets should be dissected, turned into cat food, and then be forced to clean that stain under the sofa which you thought I wouldn't notice, you bastard- I KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE!