What is the purpose of literary criticism? Among other things, to guide the reader past his or her resistance. Most art, subtly or aggressively, resists the familiar. Poetry in particular suffers from this resistance, because poets take the material that we depend on to operate in and make sense of the world (language), and bend it to other, often seemingly obscure, purposes.
Readers, sophisticated and beginner, need critics to explain why and how poets are using language for these different purposes, and what those purposes might be. Our attachment to familiar language is powerful, and understandable. Without critics, we will hold on to the familiar and be unable to accept that there are other uses for language, that there is new and exciting poetry all around us.
Critics can do one of at least two things. The first is simply to insist that something is good, or bad, and rely on the force of personality or reputation to convince people. The second is to write, with focus and clarity, about how the piece of art works, what choices the artist has made, and how that might affect a reader. Only then can the reader grow to meet work that is unfamiliar, that he or she does not yet have the capacity to love.
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