Many "poems" nowadays are prose elevated to poetry by political correctness. A poem is not metaphor alone, but a nexus of elements that express human experience for aesthetic purpose; for poetry, this means using language charged to the utmost with the best words in the best order. "Charged to the utmost" means using poetic elements in the most effective manner--rhythm, rhyme, image, metaphor, &c. It also means realizing one or more aesthetic principles that distinguish Art from everything else. These include values (such as Wholeness, Aliveness, Uniqueness, Perfection, Necessity, Completion, Respect, Justice, Order, Simplicity, Freedom, Effortlessness, Playfulness, Toleration, Richness, Responsibility, Self-sufficiency, Inter-dependence, Goodness) expressed by qualities (such as rightness, desirability, oughtness, benevolence, simplicity, honesty, reality, richness, essentiality, purity, clean and unmodifiable completeness, rightness in form, disinterestedness, vitality, Truth and Beauty, uniqueness, integration unity, interconnectedness, organization, structure, acceptance, synergy, resolution, transcendence of contradictions, co-operation, diversity, process, spontaneity, self-regulation, full functionality, isostatic equilibrium, idiosyncrasy, scientific method, finality, individuality, non-comparability, novelty, fun, suchness, joy, economy of means, unimprovability, suitability, ending, fulfillment, totality, is-ness, destiny, cessation, humor, architectonics, restoration, completion, closure, inevitability, suitability, grace, inevitability, lawfulness, impartiality, essentiality, generalizability, differentiation, complexity, essential structure, ease, unmistakability, specificity, intricacy, amusement, perfect functioning, exuberance, gaiety, equity, autonomy, independence, identity, according to Abraham Maslow. Poetry is the above, made compelling. Criticism’s task is to show how these are made compelling. A poet’s task is to optimize them to create beautiful meaning. These as advisory only. They don’t insist that one suspend judgment about local conditions or apply them at every instant. Applying them is not like enforcing them. Since time itself is constant emergence, they can’t be permanent or universal.
The larger question is: What should poetry be doing in a time of Bozoculture, where greed dominates and culture is disposable? What nothing else can.
∙ Synthesize thought, feeling, and action to create beautiful meaning.
∙ Record the inner life of its time.
∙ Monitor national pride and shame.
∙ Minister to creativity, freedom, health, and development.
∙ Extend poetry’s boundaries.
∙ Show mind creating mind and heart becoming heart.
So poetry has purpose after all. When it happens, it’s a “high plateau” experience, usually private, but public when it aims to dissolve official numbness, iterate the primacy of principled action, set Science over nonsense, or warn of gas in the mine.
Divorced from function, art becomes abstract. Lacking standards, expression grows pedestrian, banal, or vulgar. Poets who confuse prose with poetry, observation with epiphany, and epiphany with significance produce results that are as disposable as used tissue. Nowadays, every effusion is considered a poem; political correctness and cultural relativism demands this. But replacing aesthetic values with correctness turns poets to cement, and illusion dominates where everyone participates. Nor has mass participation created a mass audience. Poems by thousands are submitted to journals read by hundreds. It isn’t enough to be good; a poet has to be lucky. The last poet to make a living from poetry was Tennyson, and the best selling American "poet" of the Twentieth Century was Rod McKuen, who made a living from performing songs. While poetry can be a powerful engine for guided discovery of self, standards matter for those who are doing something else, too.