Good critics of difficult poetry
Difficult verse is not well-served by critics who tend to pounce on this kind of material as an excuse to display their own erudition. This has the unfortunate effect of making the poem appear more difficult than it is.
Ordinary, non-academic, readers of poetry want some contextual background and to know what the critic thinks and feels about the work. It is infinitely preferable for the critic to describe what it is like to read the work rather than to hypothesise about concealed ambiguities and allusions.
With this in mind, we set out below those critics that are most useful for readers of difficult poetry. The list is organised by poet and is not by any means comprehensive. Other suggestions would be most welcome.
Celan is not well-served by critics, there is now such a plethora of self regarding posturing about his work that it's really hard to find work that is at all helpful.
Jacques Derrida's collection "Sovereignties in Question" contains 4 essays and two interviews on Celan. Derrida remains a controversial figure with a reputation for obscurity but his work on Celan is remarkably clear and full of insight.
Phillipe Lacoue-Labarthe's "Poetry as experience" contains 12 essays on Celan and is probably more effective in putting the poems into context.
Celan rarely spoke about his work but the Bremen Address (1958) and the Meridian Address (1961) do give some account of his ideas and aspirations. Needless to say, these have been fought over by critics ever since.
Christopher Ricks, one of our finest and most insightful critics, has written eloquently on Hill. His "The Force of Poetry" contains two essays whilst his recent book "True Friendship" looks at Hill, Lowell and Hecht in their relationships to Eliot and Pound.
Thomas A Day writes perceptively about Hill, especially on "The Orchards of Sion". His "Sensuous Intelligence" compares Hill and Eliot but also contains a decent reading of 'The Triumph of Love'.
Geoffrey Hill is also a brilliant critic. The essay "Language Suffering and Silence" is probably the closest we're going to get to a statement of his poetics.
J H Prynne
Prynne's work is surrounded by almost as much obfuscation as that of Celan. Keston Sutherland is Prynne's most passionate advocate but some of his analysis is expressed in very abstract terms. There's a lot of Sutherland on the jacket site and some more on glossator.
For criticism that meets our criteria, there is only Jay Basu's reading of "Red D Gypsum" which manages to be both instructive and inspiring at the same time. Readers new to Prynne should start here.
Prynne has begun to talk about his own work. His "Mental Ears and Poetic Work" and "Difficulties in the Translation of 'Difficult Poems" lectures provide a wealth of insights into his practice.