I heard this recently on a Poetry podcast and immediately rewound so I could listen again.
From an interview with TriQuarterly Online:
TQO: As an avid reader of poetry, what do you say to someone who just doesn’t get poetry—someone who can’t see any pragmatic purpose to it? What about the accusation that poetry can be understood and enjoyed by only a select group of people?
BC: I can empathize, but I think there’s usually a difference between those who don’t get poetry and those who don’t think there is a pragmatic purpose to it. Basically, you just have to allow that poetry serves a purpose the way that music, theater, comic books, and graffiti serve a purpose: creative types can’t help but make their commentary through their art.
And, honestly, there is a point where poetry can only be understood by select group of people. Poetry as we write it in 2011 is a wild animal for most readers who don’t also write it; it doesn’t offer the same access points that a news article or a blog post or a novel offers. And there’s an element of poetry that is like philosophy: readers know it can be skillful and rigorous and smart and taken seriously, but there simply is no “right or wrong” to it, there are lots of variables and opposing approaches. Once readers allow that a poem can be understood “correctly” more than one way (intuitively, contextually, critically, artistically, etc.), they get poetry just as well as any practicing poet. It’s up to that reader to dig deeper into the poem to get the most out of it.
TQO: But if you did have to get a tattoo, what would it be or say?
BC: I worked for the public library in Carmel, Indiana, for ten years off and on. My favorite section was (of course) the 811 section (which in this library is very extensive)—more specifically, the 811.52 section. My friend and fellow poet Danielle Wheeler is the first one I know to have the 811 tattoo, and I was crazy with envy when I saw it—but I’d have to go all the way with 811.52. I haven’t ruled out getting that one but keep bumping up the literary milestone that will warrant it. At this rate, I’ll need to win the Nobel before I get it done.