Amy Murphy, one of the teachers in this year's seminar, offers a wonderful "Goldilocks Assignment" to address the issue of "difficulty" in poetry.
"For this assignment," she tells her students, "you will read many poems, searching for one that’s too easy, one that’s too hard, and finally, one that’s just right!" (She uses the analogy of trying on clothes to find those that suit your personal style, make you look good, fit, etc.--I'm an idiot shopper, though, so I'll stick with chairs, perhaps.)
"Here are the procedures to follow," she continues (I've made a couple of changes here):
1. Begin by perusing the many poetry books I’ve brought into class. As you read through the poetry, consider what makes you like a certain poem and not like another one. Some considerations include:
inner form—i.e., how is the poem organized?
outer form: meter or free verse
[These could be multiplied, of course!]
Now find a poem that you find too easy, one that's too hard, and one that seems just right."
You then ask the students to write a reflective essay on the poems they have chosen, and why each was each.
A wonderful assignment--and one that could get students talking, in productive ways, about why a poem that seems too hard or too easy to one student feels just right to another, no?