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Justin Jacoby Smith is an organizer, web geek, Buddhist, and poet.

seeing through opaque poetry

How, for instance, might "nonspecialist" readers approach a seemingly impenetrable poem like one of Karen Volkman's sonnets, which opens "Blank bride of the hour, occluded thought/ wed to waning like a sifting scent/ of future flowers, retrograde intent"? They'll need to look for some context, something to grab onto. Orr suggests examining the poem's relationship to more "traditional" sonnets. As he notes, it is "metrically regular, is composed of fourteen lines, uses real words, and has a traditional rhyme scheme—but it doesn't make sense and is grammatically incoherent." Then he advises asking a simpler question to which everyone has his or her own answer: "Is it this interesting?" If you can say yes, then, as Orr notes, "that is enough."

David Orr's new guidebook to understanding poetry is called, appropriately, Beautiful & Pointless.