I just posted this at PFFA, but thought I may as well put it here too.
A UK poetry editor said recently that he disliked poems that had designs on the reader, and it does seem as though this view is quite common. For example:
John Keats - "We hate poetry that has a palpable design on us."
Robert Mezey (blurb) - “What I value in poetry, and find in Clive Watkins’s poems, is a faithful, accurate, attentive eye that is always focused on the subject at hand, a mind that is never self-regarding, does not strike postures, has no designs on the reader. (This alone would distinguish him from most of his contemporaries.)”
Paul Batchelor on UK poet, Penelope Shuttle (from Poetry Review) – “Whether the writing of such poetry was therapeutic should not concern us: that Shuttle has designs on the poem rather than the reader ensures the results are genuinely affirming.”
My initial reaction was to feel that all poetry has designs on the reader. If a poet doesn’t care how his work is perceived, why bother writing it in the first place? But perhaps what this editor dislikes is a hidden design that hooks readers in by force of rhetoric, emotional display, or personality, and which might thereby be viewed as manipulative, compared with the quieter poet who steps back out of the poem. This seems to be kind of what the poet/critic Peter Riley is talking about in a review of UK poet Alice Oswald:
“The first thing Oswald says about Ted Hughes, remembering her first experience of one of his poems is, "I was instantly drawn in." All the Big Hs do this — they draw you in: to an experience, a rusticity, to a theology and a history, to an Irishness, which they insist is important, and they draw you in with force and offer you no alternatives, and they do this by metaphor-laden forms of rhetoric. The opening lines of Dart don't grab hold of you and drag you in: they offer you an entrance. If it is insisted that we are still "drawn in" it is at our own wish: we have agreed to the contract proposed. The whole of Dart maintains that tone, as a text without designs on the reader, without self-projection, which achieves its form by following a simple terrestrial course and harmonising the voices of others…
...We could indeed be talking about a kind of self-sacrifice into the text, for the more impersonal the poems are the more they are infused with sense material which can only come from practised observation and strong response, and those can only come from the author. Yet the author is never more than marginally present.”
But do you think there is any problem with poetry having designs on a reader? Do we, with Keats, hate it? Or do we have designs of our own?