As far as I can make out, there is only one rule to the game of literature that we can say with any degree of certainty. That rule is play.
Play consists of saying much without really saying anything. It is not the job of poetry to clarify. Poetry should suggest and ambiguate. To play with words, to juggle with concepts and ideas is the business of the poet. And freedom is the condition necessary for this kind of activity to flourish.
This is not to say that literature can’t have a message. Only that the message be conveyed in a way that isn’t direct or obvious. And that that message not be the only message.
All good literature is an interplay of light and dark.
Play is omnipresent in our language, in the way we communicate on a daily basis. We don’t always talk in a clear, transparent way. We suggest, allude and insinuate. They say this notion of play is at the heart of our Post-Modern society and culture, but the truth is it has been with us since the beginning of language and certainly since the beginning of literature.
Probably the best examples of literary play are in dramatic works, hence the name ‘play’. The best plays are those that don’t have a direct message. This is the difference between literature and propaganda. It is fascinating to witness how the drama works itself out. The dramatic work of Samuel Beckett is probably the best example of pure play there is. Waiting for Godot is an astonishing achievement of pure dramatic play: a play without any message at all.
Why is drama the best literary form for playing in? It is because drama mimics our own everyday speech. Our monologues and dialogues. And, as we have already pointed out, play is inherent in our language and the way we communicate. It is part of the human condition and the human condition is every poet’s concern.
There are rules to every game. These rules change over time. All except that one essential governing principle: to play. Once you start playing, you are on the road to making good poetry.