Accessible poetry? Part 1.

Accessibility. It's either a dirty word or a delightful word, depending on your point of view (and perhaps your relation to academia). I've been kicking around the idea of accessibility, especially as it relates to why people avoid poetry.

I suspect that a vast swath of Americans come away from high school or college exposure to poetry both scarred and skittish. There's an idea that poetry is essentially coded, oblique, elusive, and snobbish. Self-referential to a fault. Requiring a Cliffs Notes. That it's only for insiders.

You know, that's sometimes a fair assessment. I can't blame anybody for avoiding those poems. I'm sometimes tempted to avoid them myself.

But meanwhile, there's a huge amount of poetry, past and present, that does consider its – if you will forgive the marketing term – its "target audience." Wonderful poetry, whose hoped-for audience is the average thoughtful reader.

Ted Kooser's "Selecting A Reader."

First, I would have her be beautiful,
and walking carefully up on my poetry
at the loneliest moment of an afternoon,
her hair still damp at the neck
from washing it. She should be wearing
a raincoat, an old one, dirty
from not having money enough for the cleaners.
She will take out her glasses, and there
in the bookstore, she will thumb
over my poems, then put the book back
up on its shelf. She will say to herself,
"For that kind of money, I can get
my raincoat cleaned." And she will.


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