should poetry and prose make sense?

aleatoric evolution

Here are 5 reasons to make your writing incomprehensible—

  • impenetrable words allow the reader to focus on the prosody
  • mystification creates enigmas, unresolved mystery
  • if the meaning is obscured the reader can invent their own
  • writing that doesn’t make sense is more likely to be original, less likely to feel familiar
  • life makes very little sense—to me at least—so why should writing?

I confess that my writing advice is pretty much self-serving because I enjoy reading stuff I don’t understand. Admittedly I would have preferred not to have been baffled by the instructions that came with my atomic vegetable processor, even though the blast radius was quite small.

But in fiction, as opposed to non-fiction, you do have a choice—

Were vagueness enough and the sweet lies plenty,
The hollow words could bear all suffering
And cure me of ills.

—Dylan Thomas, Out of the Sighs.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.

—Lewis Carroll, Jabberwocky.


your guess is as good as mine

23 thoughts on “should poetry and prose make sense?

    • You’re welcome. I might be advocating for the hornéd one a bit here, just for fun. Next–the case against punctuation :-). I do have to say ‘Stop Making Sense’ was definitely a Talking Heads classic.

      Liked by 1 person

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  3. What I learned at great expense from writing classes–write from the heart and don’t hold back. Since then I’ve had stacks of short stories rejected by publishers. Every rejection still hurts a bit, but I have a glass of wine, burn the rejection letter and move on to the next piece :). Not courage, alcohol and not dwelling on failure. So you know what I’d say …


      • Hi Graham, yes, it make sense, although I think you do much more than scribble, and anyway it’s good to enjoy whatever writing you do.

        Problem for me is that I write very slowly and it just happens. I see writing for an audience as requiring a degree of finesse that I don’t possess. So I just hope there might be an audience, Martians perhaps 🙂 .

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Steve. Interesting example with the Jabberwock. What Carroll has done is to weave his faux language into a rhythm that can carry a reader without necessarily comprehending each element or each word. I think almost everyone that reads it finds familiarity, despite the composed wording.

    Where I stumble is when a piece is deliberately incomprehensible, and so much contemporary work seems to be. My own view is that there is room for plenty of whimsy, and for plenty of chal;lenge as well, but that poetry does itself a disservice if it is written to be deliberately vague.

    Personally, I like what I read to be able to be understood and what I write for myself to be able to be responded to by the chap/chappess down the road that ‘isn’t into poetry, but …’ is stimulated by what he/she sees in something I have put up.

    It’s a bugbear of mine that so much contemporary poetry goes out of it’s way to be incomprehensible.



    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree, and I certainly have enough problems without being intentionally unintelligible :). Non-fiction is a bit different, but one thing I’ve learned from experience is that it doesn’t matter whether the audience (readers or listeners) understands something or not. What matters is that they think they understand ;).

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve always tried to make my poetry make sense because otherwise, it sounds like nonsense and not good enough to be published. But I might give what you said a try because I think readers like figuring out if they can make sense of what a poem means for themselves.

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    • Yes, poems aren’t facts, and mostly facts aren’t facts either, as far as I can tell. I was taught ‘write from the heart’ and ‘don’t hold back.’ I still don’t know what that means but I’m pretty sure it includes giving it a go :).


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