Sunday, November 14, 2004

The ire of accessibility

Yesterday I went to a local writers group meeting for the chance to hear the topic of Accessibility in Poetry discussed. The guest speaker was a woman known in the area and beyond, though I'm not sure to what boundary, for her published book of poetry and her engagement in regional writing associations. She's known to me from her online presence as well as through the flesh - seeing her, hearing her and watching her - not with total objectivity and with more than a fair amount of suspicion.

But then I read an enormously long thread in the alluded-to poetry forum above; a thread which indicted and tried an academic publisher for her affiliations with other academic publications. It was a witch hunt in my mind. Had nothing to do with integrity and everything to do with pompousness on the part of the instigator and his forum friends.

Yesterday's speaker inserted one or two calm assertions into the midsection of that thread, and suffered personal insult as a result. hmmph, I thought. Perhaps I ought to give this woman another shot.

So yesterday was a multi-tasking kind of afternoon. The two-hour experience didn't expand my perception much on the notion of accessibility. Maybe if I'd been there for her first few minutes, the remainder of her talk would've coalesced around the subject. But I don't think so. I wanted to learn how to balance suggestion with specificity. I was looking for some clear distinction between writing for market and writing for self. Accessibility as an equilibrium. What's the weight of the internet? Is accessibility about the lowest common denominator? What is its final worth? Things like that.

She spoke freely, randomly, chaotically. Two or three times she complimented the dozen or so listeners on their considerable poetic knowledge. This kind of backhanded bullshit seemed not to ruffle them. Even the college professor sat quiet, taking notes or doodling. Most of those present were fiction writers. There were two freshman-level college students present. I sat next to the female whose composition book was open. She filled and turned pages and then left with apologies after 90 minutes. The boy across from me slunk low, crossed hands at his elbows and stared.

Every so often, she'd insert verse. This impressed me. Maybe I should start memorizing my favorite poems. Vocalizing the lines, reconnecting with the original medium of poetry. But she could recall and recite poems that disgruntled her. What mastery! How does she do it? And the voice - it became lyrical, full of honeyed resonance and somehow, that keen Southern accent disappeared. She read from her own book, always in hand, after chasing her historical foray into sonnets and apologizing for incomplete first lines and bad meter. I didn't care. I was still waiting. Then it happened.

"I tell people about my first interview with Billy Collins," she starts. "He came in with a blond in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. Other poets don't like Billy Collins. You want to know why? Because his books sell."
Whoa - now I think she's talking about accessibility.

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