"People never read poetry well until they have accepted it" (Letters, 436).When I hit a poet whose work I can't abide--say, Barrett Watten, about whom I posted a sniffy little protest on my friend Mark's blog a week ago--I always try to remind myself that I'm probably not reading the work very well, not "accepting" it, as Stevens would say. This isn't a matter of reading skills or strategies, I think, so much as a question of identity. I don't want to be the reader of work like this: which means, I guess, that don't want to embody, even temporarily, the values and desires that underwrite it, and don't want to act the role, even briefly, of a member of its target demographic. (Remember "Garageland," by The Clash? I don't want to know about what the rich are doing. / I don't want to go to where, where the rich are going..." That sort of feeling, only it's not the rich I have in mind.)
Louis Zukofsky once grouped the pleasures of poetry into sight, sound, and intellection. I think a fourth one--pleasures of character--needs to join that list. There's a pleasure in the character I have to or get to inhabit when I "accept" a work and read it well--and, conversely, that character can keep me at a distance from any given poem even when its pleasures of sight or sound or intellection beckon me across the great divide.
(Let those pleasures be great enough and I'll cave and cross, of course--but that's a matter for another post.)