Last night in class I said that when we didn't understand something in a poem we should think about where it would appear on the continuum from confusion to mystery. If I cannot figure this out or parse it down or look it up or know how to order it or find music in it or essentially create something of substance from it, why is it there? Sometimes if the thing dwells toward the confusion side, it feels like shorthand to the poet/self--the sign that stands in for meaning but that only floods out with significance for the poet. Sometimes the confusing thing is a landscape of rubble--a lot of stuff dumped in a too small space. Pieces from different jigsaws dumped into a single box (although I resist poem=box). However it fails, the reader is left to labor to no avail and it remains a distraction. (Disclaimer: I do not mean failing to see what the poet is trying to do and imposing what I want done instead.)
Mystery feels different to me. I don't exactly understand but I don't care because I am somehow moved regardless. I am not flailing around trying. It's not withholding or careless or jumbled. Mystery allows more into the poem instead of blocking up the door. It offers more than one choice or possibility or dimension. It makes the poem larger. (It is not a veil over something that doesn't work or make sense.)
What is interesting to me as well, right now, is forms of diminishment. How do we err by making a poem (and keeping a poem) small? I'm going to have to think about this for a while.