In this blog posting Sandy Longhorn talks about a rejection note from an editor and says, "Let me here admit that I received a rejection this week that cast me off track a bit. This rejection note included a specific reason the editor wasn't accepting the poems, and usually that is encouraging to me, knowing how busy and over-worked editors are and knowing that someone took the time to try to help me make my poems better. However, this comment had to do with syntax and style and included a phrase that I live in fear of hearing about my own work."
No, she never tells us what that phrase is. But her post took me back to a rejection letter experience of my own.
An editor wrote, "Your poems certainly are accessible, aren't they?"
My non-writer friends saw that comment as a good thing. I heard a sneering tone. I've heard people talk about Billy Collins. I know how they use that word.
Let me just clarify: I LOVE Billy Collins. Some of his poems just blow me away. I suspect that the critics who hurl the accessibility label at him haven't even read his work. They jealously study his book sales and his poetry readings that are standing room only, and they assume he can't be writing good poems.
I've had more than one person tell me that they like my poems because they understand them. They don't say this dismissively. In the same breath, they say something like, "But how did you think to link nuclear deterrence to a love poem? I would have never thought of that." It's the way my poet mind works. It's those surprising linkages that I love about poems, both mine and other people's.
My thinking about the issue of accessibility led me to write this poem, which appeared in both The Xavier Review and The Worcester Review :
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.