Friday, March 6, 2009

When Poems Are Accessible

Yesterday's post made me dig out a poem I wrote about accessibility and poetry. I wrote it after hearing some sneering comments about the poetry of Billy Collins, whose work I happen to love. And then I got a batch of poems returned to me with a comment on the rejection slip: "Well, your poems certainly are accessible, aren't they?"

This experience reminded me of an earlier experience writing my dissertation, where I was criticized for writing that was too clear and sparkling. One of my committee members suggested that I "muddy up my prose."

It's like I tell my Composition students--you have to know your audience. Some people like poems that are accessible, and others don't. Some people value clear and sparkling writing, and some people want to know that you can write in academic code, which some might call jargon.

This poem was first published in The Xavier Review, in the Spring 2003 volume. It was reprinted in The Worcester Review in 2003.


He says the poems are accessible,
as if it is a bad thing, as if loose
limbed poems spread open their legs
to anyone who gives them a glance.
Those poems don’t even demand drinks
and dinner first. Slutty poems. Ruint.

Perhaps he wants a sulky
poem, one that lets itself be petted, who pretends
to like him, but always holds a part
of itself back while he tortures
himself with evidence of his poem’s infidelities:
other people, plainer than him, who profess
to understand this poem when he cannot.

Perhaps he prefers poems that ignore
laws of accessibility, that barricade themselves behind bars
and up stairs and through perilous mazes.
After tunneling through to the heart
of the poem, he’s so disoriented
that he can’t hold his head upright.

Better yet, poems that speak a language
of their own creation; only a very
few in the world understand how the words
are strung together in this idiom.
Instead of seeing it for the dying language
that it is, he proclaims its linguistic
complexity and pretends to understand.

1 comment:

Shefali Shah Choksi said...

Of course, now we can expect no rejection slips, even!
As always, i enjoyed this one.