Graeme Richardson, in the TLS, says that behind John Fuller's...
"pedantry [in his book Who Is Ozymandias and other Puzzles in Poetry] is a John Bullish confidence that puzzles can be solved - and those that can't be solved aren't worth puzzling over. The book is 'intended to comfort readers who find poetry difficult by showing that everyone, including professional critics, can find it difficult.' What do we do, though, when it seems 'wilfully difficult?' 'My basic position is this: if a poem has not in the first place earned its claims on us in some way, by getting into our head and charming us, teasing us or impressing us, then we are hardly guilty of anything if we put it aside.' Once a poem has earned its reader's trust, it should then give up its secrets: 'we expect cognitive enlightenment from our reading.' Poems, ideally, are therefore like crossword puzzles or jokes one can 'get.' Naturally enough, Fuller's favored poets and critics are 'sensible' and 'down-to-earth' people. But sadly there are silly highfalutin' sorts of poetry in which 'unfathomed characteristics like obscurity become exaggerated, like concentrations of undesirable deposits in the frequently reboiled kettles of pensioners.' John Ashbery, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets and 'members of the Cambridge school' suffer from this limescale build-up. 'The reader may well puzzle over their work, but since pretty much everything in it is a puzzle anyway, it does not really fall within my brief. Nor do surrealist poème-découpages, or Google-generated flarf. There is much that is inevitably eye-glazing about that sort of thing.'
Dedicated flarfists might counter that the same was being said by contemporary critics of T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, Stevens and many of the poets Fuller now finds worthwhile. And there are obscurities in these now-accepted poets that ultimately baffle even the great puzzle-solver: what, for example, is Merlin doing in Auden's 'O Love, the interest itself in thoughtless heaven?' After a long search for Eliot's Pipit, Fuller gives up, but 'it does not matter. Some puzzles can live with permanently delayed solutions.' If they can, why can't the puzzle itself be the thing that teases and impresses us, getting into our heads and charming us?"
-- full review in the Times Literary Supplement, October 28, 2011; see also Charles Bernstein's Attack of the Difficult Poems
Pictured: a nest of Pipits