I recently had a friendly conversation, mostly via email, with a coworker who takes some interest in poetry. At his request, I recommended a few journals (both print and online) that I tend to enjoy and thought he might too (knowing nothing about his tastes). A few days later he said that for the most part he didn't understand what he'd read, that it seemed like the audience for poetry was mostly other poets, and that the whole enterprise felt like a competition "to see who can be the most obscure and inaccessible."
I took this in stride; it's of course not a new suggestion; similar complaints are levied from the inside by the Dana Gioias and Billy Collinses of the poetry world. It's certainly true that mostly poets read poetry, and I agree in some sense that obscurity can be a crutch or a means of fending off criticism. But I don't want to get into an argument about difficulty right now (for the record, I am pro-difficulty when difficulty has meaning and purpose, and anti- the kneejerk assumption that all difficulty is smoke and mirrors; difficulty is obviously relative).
For the time being I'm interested in the fact that I wasn't immediately offended. Even if he'd only been inquiring about my hobby (and poetry isn't a hobby … IT'S A LIFESTYLE), shouldn't I have been a little miffed when he basically dismissed it as a charade? (If it's not clear, his intentions were good and he was genuinely trying to engage on the topic; this wasn't like a live troll situation.) I guess I'm inured to comments like this from non-poets and people who only dabble in poetry. But I'm wondering if members of other subcultures have to confront this kind of pseudo-insult head on.
Let's say you're a birdwatcher. Has a coworker ever asked you what your favorite birding blogs are, and then said, "Wow those were boring. It's like it's just a competition to see who can claim they saw the most obscure rare bird."
Or a cellist: "I went to hear some contemporary chamber music and it was like they were actively trying to sound bad."
Or you practice yoga: "Yoga is so flaky and 'spiritual.' I'm into real exercise."
Actually I can totally see these happening. (Except for maybe the birding one. That's just mean.) I guess the question is, if you take your subculture seriously, are you offended when people dismiss it from the outside? Is it ever worth going on the defensive? Or do you just dismiss them right back?