I love ambiguity, it’s a very useful tool for creative writers; when used well it opens the portal to myriad fascinating possibilities of meaning, and gives the reader the opportunity to add her/his own meaning, so the work becomes a collaboration between writer and reader. Look, for example, at this line from ‘A Time Zone’ by Kenneth Koch:
‘Frank is smoking and looking his best lines come in transit/’
By leaving it unpunctuated we, the readers, are free to do what we like with it: is Frank looking his best; just looking around; or looking for a line, of which his best come while he’s moving? If so, what is his current state: ‘in transit’, thus making one of his best lines a possibility, or static, therefore looking in vain? And that’s even before we examine ‘smoking’ which is also ambiguous: is Frank smoking hot because he’s in transit and looking, and one of his best lines is emerging; smoking in the sense of being angry because look as he may no line is coming, or, merely smoking a cigarette? And what is a ‘line’ here anyway? I’ll leave you to ponder that one.
When used not so well ambiguity just creates confusion, and when you’re trying to say something specific that can be infuriating for both writer and reader. You need to know when you’re using it, and accept that it can lead readers to conclusions you may not have considered. It’s no use wailing ‘but that’s not what I meant!’ Here’s an example I saw on Twitter yesterday*:
‘We gather as one to pray for a broken world.’
I’d say that prayer has been answered.
I know, I know, but when you’ve spent the morning reading the Twitter profiles of Trump supporters all bets are off.