I was thinking about the conversation last night about the Oppen poem, "Psalm," particularly about how we came to no conclusion. Good! Humanities teachers like that! And this morning, while looking for a few more poetry blogs to post for your reference, I came upon this one, Poetry & Popular Culture, in which blogger Mike Chasar discusses movies and poetry and nicely expresses the meat of our discussion:
"...the idea that perhaps, as often as not, we remember poetry because we don't understand it, not because we do understand it. That is, maybe what makes a poem memorable is the fact that it's to some extent indecipherable. Like the Sphinx's riddle, like Eliot's quotation of Shakespeare, like gnomic sound bites from Kipling or radio hosts, perhaps we remember poetry because it gives us something to chew on and think about, not because it answers our questions and solves our riddles."
I also found an excellent post by poet Carl Phillips that discusses the Oppen poem and comes to a few smart and helpful conclusions while not collapsing the poem into a neat algebra solution. Not to give it all away, but Phillips' subtitle reads, "How Oppen's broken syntax praises God."
Among other insights, Phillips examines the line breaks and wording that we found so interesting and says, "Syntax is the chief tool that language has for conveying meaning. And it is at the level of syntax that Oppen puts forward his concerns about praise, our obligation to give praise, and the limits to our ability to do so."
None of which is meant to incite bouts of incoherence in your assignments....