Bernstein recognizes the affect that difficulty first releases — anxiety, reluctance, the deep breath as one gathers resolve to do something difficult, such as read a poem known for its difficulty. His performance includes several masks, switching the impression to a generic Dr. Phil (“Difficult poems are not like this because of something you as readers have done to them. It’s not your fault”) or the ladies glossy advice column (“Once you have gotten beyond the blame game — blaming yourself as a reader for the difficulty or blaming the poem — you can start to focus on the relationship”). The piece is more than a send-up. What’s being entertained here are at least two things, for the joke is neither facetious nor smug: the tonal caricature conveys straight forward reminders useful to any reader of poetry, but especially those readers who eschew difficulty because they don’t feel up to it: relax, get busy — after all, difficulty in poetry is “normal,” “innate;” and “smoothing over difficulties is not the solution!”
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