Any memorable poem defamiliarizes—from a Marilyn Hacker sonnet crown to Christian Bok’s vowel-driven prose poems—by selection, compression, sequence, spacing, use of sound and rhythm; by the poet’s relation to metaphor, story, meditation, tone, and so on. The numberless decisions that determine and structure the marks on the page, bringing measure to the shapeless in a manner that nudges us from our trance.
The unfamiliar invites, if not demands, our involvement. The good work left to the mind of the reader, in whom possibilities coexist, each reading a genuine remaking or reliving, in some way unlike what was lived or made before.
The most rewarding, to my mind, invite a delighted state of lostness while grounded, a “being in uncertainties,” which can happen phrase to phrase—
The soul in paraphrase, the heart in pilgrimage.
(“Prayer,” George Herbert)
or line by line—
The wild deer bedding down—
That they are there!
(“Psalm,” George Oppen)
or over the arc of a whole poem (Nox, Anne Carson).
A suspension within a sense of something understood that’s felt but unarticulable.