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john k zimmerman

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My Poetics [#10]
by john k zimmerman   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Tuesday, May 05, 2009
Posted: Thursday, February 10, 2005

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john k zimmerman

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Poetry should always be accessible to the reader. That is to say that a reader of average intelligence and perception should be able to understand the poem at least on some basic level. The accessibility of poetry is of a different order than the accessibility of television. TV is a blunt instrument; its meaning must be obvious and unambiguous to a wide audience. Poetry is subtle. The language of poetry by its very nature is ambiguous. Reading poetry requires that the reader enter into the vision of the poet. This requires the reader to invest time and energy in the poem. Onthe other hand, the poet needs to play fair with the reader and provide at least a small toehold, a way into the vision. I know that there are groups of poets who write only for members of their own group. Apparently the members of the great unwashed (read: you and I) are not worthy of the access to their poetry. As far as I am concerned the "Poet as snob" and "Poet knows best” mentalities are archaic: The poet comes from the people her job is to give voice to the People's fears and hopes and dreams. Poets express common emotions using the common language with uncommon clarity and intent. This is not to say that the poet simply parrots the lowest common denominator of the human experience. The poet simply sees more in the common experience than the non poet sees: the whys and the wherefores, the potentialities and probabilities. Like the prophets of the Old Testament (who were all poets), the poet sees in current events their logical and predictable out comes and consequences. While others may share the same vision what sets the poet apart is his courage in rendering that vision into words. The important word is "courage". If the poet writes only for other poets in some secret code of "poets" then his vision is lost. He is only "preaching to the choir" and not to his proper audience. That proper audience is the people from whom the poet came out. They may have no interest in what the poet has say. They may not understand. They may understand too well and be hostile. No matter. It is to them that the poet speaks; therefore, what the poet writes must be accessible to them.  

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Reviewed by Gwen Dickerson
How true! All too often, we poets falter, sometimes falling into this trap of non-communitive, "veiled" language. Your article serves as a valuable guide and reminder of a poet's basic goal; that of presenting a a message of clarity. Well written article. Thank you!
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