When I walk to my bookcase to pick up a book of poetry, I don’t ask myself how challenged I want to be today. When I decide between two books of poems to take on a trip, I don’t weight their difficulty.
I’m tired of the term “difficulty.” It was a terrible word for art. It does nothing for readers, except to make some people feel smug. “I like difficult art!”
Yes, most of the poetry I like is called “difficult.” But I don’t find it difficult. I don’t’ find it challenging. I find it variable and shifty. I like variable and shifty art. Why not think of it that way, rather than as some sort of fight or homework problem?
“Difficult poetry” sounds like something you have to work hard on. Right? Well, all poetry needs to be worked with, so “difficult” poetry must be the best, most important poetry. And if you don’t torture yourself with it, you just must not be good enough for the best stuff. Bah and fie. That’s a terrible use of terms.
What would the last 30 years of poetry be like if instead of “Difficulty” we used the term “Twisty”? Would people not have taken the art so seriously? Well, have they taken it seriously as it is? (No, not really.) What has “difficulty” done for anyone? (Very little.)
Liking “difficult” poetry is like saying you like to date “difficult” people. It’s just simply the wrong word, unless you’re either a masochist or you just like fighting. Maybe some people do like fighting with their art. Maybe for them “difficulty” is a perfectly good word for how to describe it then. But it’s not for me.
On the flipside, I find the term “accessible” to be so flatly obvious as to make me wonder what value anyone could ever get from it. For me, “Accessibility” is a term for building access: all people, no matter their physical abilities, can get into this building. When applied to poetry, I find this term to be highly patronizing. Demeaning, even. “Even my secretary can read it,” to paraphrase Ted Kooser.
I imagine someone at a bookstore, browsing the poetry section (do people even do that?), and thinking “I hope I can find a book that’s accessible to a reader like me.” I feel that person is in need of a hug. These are just terrible terms.
Someone please invent a new economy. One based on positive experiences of art. Please.
PS. Literary criticism is just another form of fan fiction. Pass it on.