In the past year it has dawned on me that my writing life is fractured. I wonder if that's a good thing or a bad one. When writing a book review, there's an imperative to be clear, evenhanded, as uncomplicated as possible. If an essay is the task at hand, the same precision in diction is required as for the review, but this time I must take a position from which to make whatever the point may be.
My trouble is that for a couple of years I've been concentrating on poetry. Not just the rather formalized, often rhymed verse I enjoyed so much when I was younger, but the kind of free-flung, authority-challenging sort of thing contemporary poets seem to be selling these days. I admit to the commercial ambition as well as the artistic. Then I read some Robert Frost or Al Maginnis, for instance, and wonder why I bother.
If you have something to get across to a reader in prose, as a general rule you strive for simplicity (not necessarily short words so much as the right words) in order to leave as little room for doubt about your intention as possible. It's a whole different ball game with poetry. Not that the diction doesn't need as much concentrated effort in making choices -- the choices have to be made with almost opposite goals in mind.
A poem seems to require the opening of broad interpretations, almost unlimited possibilities for revelations, however minute they may be. A poet needs to feel the possibility of something even broader than s/he initially intended when putting those words down. Some instinct says to a poet that the work must be different from and more than its author was aware of, while still fulfilling the first intention. The challenge is no longer for clarity, but for suggestion, for implication. The poet's mind has to have slipped a kind of leash of logic and wandered off the trodden path to point out a new wilderness for the reader to want to explore.
Shifting gears is getting more difficult to do and isn't (as with driving a car) automatic.