Mystery and Obscurity: A guest post by Julie LeMay

Julie LeMay

As poet Li-Young Lee so
succinctly put it: “Mystery is good. Obscurity isn’t.” I have found that most
poets struggle with being either too prosaic or too abstract.  Either we don’t leave enough room for the
reader or we lead the reader in multiple directions at the same time.

Nearly two years ago I
began working on my MFA in poetry at the low residency program at Antioch Los
Angeles.  Every semester has an
additional project. This semester is the 25 page critical paper. I thought this
would be an excellent opportunity to improve my own poems by delving into the
issue of mystery and obscurity.

So I’ve been working on
this, both from a research perspective but also from a craft view.  How do we maintain both clarity and
ambiguity? Are there specific exercises that help?  I admit I love a how-to program. 13 Weeks to
a 10K?  You bet!  How to Raise the Perfect Dog?  Yes, I need to do that!  That’s what I hoped to do with mystery in
poetry. Write a Great Poem in 21 Steps? I’m not quite there but I do have some

I have gathered some
poems that I think represent mystery at its best. I have also accumulated a
number of amazing writing exercises developed by other poets.  These exercises explore writing from the
subconscious as well as writing with strong imagery and metaphor. I want to
share these and also discuss how specific poetic techniques can strengthen a

Are you a poet? Join me
Sunday April 7, 2-4 pm at Fireside Books in
to help unravel the mystery of what makes a poem magical. What brings us
back time and time again to a well-loved poem? I want to hear your ideas on
what makes a poem magical. Bring a favorite poem or writing exercise. Or both.
What could be better than a Sunday afternoon writing and talking about poetry? Register today! (Be sure to scroll down for the Palmer workshop).

Julie Hungiville LeMay was born in Buffalo, New York and moved to Alaska’s Matanuska Valley where she has lived since 1978.  Her poetry has been published online and in a
number of literary journals including Passager, Bluestem, Pilgrimage, Lummox,
and Sugar Mule. She is currently an MFA candidate at
Antioch University, Los

2 thoughts on “Mystery and Obscurity: A guest post by Julie LeMay”

  1. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    It is so great to see you posting ehre, Julie! My only whine is that since I probably won't make it up to Palmer, I sure wish you would follow up and share more of your critical paper insights here at 49W, in the form of a second post (or a short series of posts). Any chance of that? We non-poets who still love to read and hear poetry could use some remedial education–or at least, I sure can.

  2. Andromeda, I'd love to have you make it to Palmer for the workshop! I'm also up for doing another post as I've found the topic to be really interesting. Although I am looking at balancing ambiguity and clarity from the view of poetry, I think it's applicable to all genres.

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