How important is accessibility of your poem’s meaning? Should one have to work hard to “solve” the poem?
Thank you for asking this question, Colleen. I feel strongly (to the point of preaching and ranting) that a poem is not a cryptogram to be solved like a crossword puzzle--and should not be treated as one. Too often, K-12 education has sent students out on a symbol safari, and if they came back with a zebra instead of a lion, they got a bad grade. I also think that this approach in fact devalues poetry. For me, poetry is reserved for human experience that simply cannot be expressed through any other genre.
I like to think of each poem I write, as well as each poem I read, as an experience on three levels. The visceral experience comes first through the poem's sensory imagery, combined with the sounds of the words and the cadence of the lines. The visceral experience gives rise to an emotional experience, how each element of the poem and the poem taken as a whole make me feel. The intellectual experience of the poem comes last through a metacognitive process of reflection on my own experience of the poem to gain insight into why I reacted to it the way that I did. I also think about contextual considerations that might be relevant, such as social, historical, or biographical events and perspectives. All three experiences then give me a rich and meaningful experience of a particular poem. This is how I hope readers experience my poetry. (A tall order, I know!)
That said, the question of a poem's accessibility is an important one for poets to keep in mind. For me, a poem is inaccessible when the experience the poet intended for the reader to have is not, in fact, the experience the reader had. I'll give you a quick example. Yesterday, I read the following erasure poem about the crisis in Ukraine: “Mir in Ukraine.” My initial experience of the poem was confusion and frustration because of how the words are arranged on the screen and my own difficulty with spacial thinking. Based on her contributor's note, the poet's intent was not for readers to come away from the poem with an experience of confusion and frustration. The poem was inaccessible to me, in other words. However, the spoken word version of the poem opened the the accessibility door, and I was able to experience the poem as the poet intended.
Why do you write syllabic poetry?
I'll confess to being dismissive of syllabic poetry for most of my writing life, based on the mistaken belief that formal poetry, syllabic poetry in particular, would be restrictive and limiting. (This without having tried to write it or read it in any kind of depth.) This bias (along with some other closely-held writing biases) was challenged when I began blogging a few years ago in an effort to "build author platform." I started following your blog and learning what syllabic poetry actually is and how it works. The more I learned about it, the more I wanted to try it for myself. The fact that you were urging me on had something to do with it as well!
What gave me the push to try my hand at syllabic poetry was a trip to Portland Head Light on a cold and cloudy autumn day. I realized that I had never seen Cape Elizabeth with a gray color palette. All my fond childhood memories of the place were bright sun and blue water. Might a haiku express what I was feeling as a result of this realization? I tried it, but haiku didn't fit. Then I tried tanka, which proved to be the perfect marriage of form and content.
Do you use other mediums, such as photography or artwork in your poetry? What message do you want your readers to receive from this kind of collaborative effort?
Not using images to accompany poetry was another of my closely-held writing biases prior to getting involved with blogging. I thought that using images with poetry was a form of cheating, that if the words alone couldn't paint the picture, the poem wasn't good enough. What changed my thinking was coming to understand that blogging is in part a visual medium, with images having a specific role to play in the post, depending on the content.
During this same time period, I also became interested in ekphrastic poetry when I wrote one for the first time based on a prompt painting, and it was accepted for publication by The Ekphrastic Review. My understanding of ekphrastic poetry is that the poem is inspired by the artwork, but the poem must be able to stand on its own. It was a short step from there to start exploring how an image and a poem could be completely interdependent, that you take away one and the other loses its ultimate meaning. I explore this relationship in my debut poetry collection, Grief Songs: Poems of Love & Remembrance.