Poetry, like all the arts, has taken a turn toward the diffuse since World War 2. By diffuse, I mean the opposite of the exactness that went into the work of the masters, the pointedness of a strong sensibility.
Much has been said about the quantity of verse being written and published today, that serious critics, readers, and poets themselves, all recoil from the sheer bulk of verse that largely is “occasional” or lacking in depth, perception, and intelligence. There has been an outcry in some circles against it, that poetry is a factory supported by MFA programs, grants, readings, workshops, and other such means, all of which tend toward a “factory” poetry, i.e., an uninventive, unoriginal poetry that nobody really seems interested in.
Like much else in the past three decades, poetry has become facile and media-slick. Discipline is out, facility is in. Charm, on which the facile poet relies, can be a throwaway after a day, like an old newspaper.
Poets like Allen Ginsberg and James Dickey represent to the public what it wants in its poet: madness, violence, drugs, alcoholism, those attributes which hide the art. To be a poet these days is to be a Name, devoid of any but public attributes. Shakespeare would never have gotten beyond his sonnets by today’s standards. He would be teaching at a writer’s workshop.
With hostility toward poetry itself, not from the public so much as from the writers themselves, their critics, and teachers in the academy — all of whom find it a necessary drag, a means to make a living, to get by — it is not surprising to find a hokey and non-serious commitment among those whose job it is to get the work out.
Wallace Stevens said there are many ways to perceive a blackbird, or the imagination, perception being limited only by the limitation of the perceiver. What seems to be missing today is a commitment to poetry, to the art of it, and to the genius of it. As Auden put it:
. . . poetry makes nothing happen: it survives In the valley of its saying where executives Would never want to tamper; it flows south From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs, Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives, A way of happening, a mouth.