Josh responds, in part:
"Henry, I need some clarification here. Are you saying that "difficulty" in poetry stems simply from the fact that words don't mean what they say—that difficulty stems from the gap between form and content? Doesn't that apply, potentially to any utterance? Or are you arguing for the importance of the framing that happens off the page—the question of poetry as an institution (Mike would double-damn it as a homogenous institution)—and deeming inadequate any approach that doesn't either attack institutionality or expand its mandate?"
Form & content(!)... let's pass on that. The difficulty I'm referring to - the generative difficulty - is that people, not words, don't mean what they say. (Art complicates this further by offering a symbolic speech, the "factual" truth of which is irrelevant.) The fact that the gap in question (between persons & truth-speaking) does apply to any utterance, is actually what places ethical difficulty at the center of literature's social relevance.
I would not, as you do here, Josh, simply align "the framing that happens off the page" with "the question of poetry as an institution". Dilemmas of personal and social ethics do not have simple institutional correlates. Rather, humanity is confronted with social, political, environmental, personal, psychological, experiential and philosophical riddles and dilemmas of such depth and complexity, as to result in ethical demands for which many people around the world sacrifice their personal well-being and their very lives. It is this experiential context which limits the general interest in poetry, to those relatively rare works which grapple with these demands in a substantial way.