I should start by thanking the four good souls who helped me start this thing. Thoughtful people, no surprise, led to thoughtful responses. I also should note that I sent this question to a few other people I termed the 'poetry mafia.' More responses could very well still appear here. If anyone out there in Internet land wants to contribute please let me know.
This project, if you will, began with my own general curiosity. Why do so many people fear poetry? How can I better change that sad fact? I come at this topic from two vantage points--one as an amateur lover of poetry and the written word. Second, as a bookseller.
Some poets I love are: Rebecca Lindenberg, Frank Bidart, Ruth Stone, Tracy K. Smith, Jack Gilbert, C.K. Williams, Maurice Manning, Jeffrey Yang(as writer and editor), Barbara Ras, James Wright, Natasha Tretheway, Yehuda Amichai, Major Jackson, Thomas McGrath, Louise Gluck, Yusef Komunyakaa, Brian Turner, James Dickey, Li-Young Lee and Marie Howe. That isn't a list anyone should adhere to. Much like wine or music or style, I strongly believe that all of our tastes change and evolve. So it should go with poetry.
Poetry and short stories are the two oft maligned categories that I fight for. Many readers will say, "oh, I don't read poetry/short stories." It is very much like children who are unwilling to eat certain vegetables. They do not know what they are missing.
As far as poetry goes, I am of the simple opinion that one should try lots of different things and see what you like. Liking something does not equate to relativism.
I see poetry everywhere. In church and fast food joint signs. I like about 10% of spoken word and graffiti. Good books of poems are like a record. No single covers what it can be. What I love about poetry is that it makes me pay attention to the line, to a detail, to a word. It demands and deserves ones time.
Yet what is wrong with poetry? It can be insular. It can be obtuse. It can mirror the problems any other form of art must combat. And this one simple fact: it doesn't sell well enough to carry it's weight in almost every single bookstore in the world. Maybe that is okay in the eyes of many. It can be a labor of love. Bookstores, however, cannot be museums of words. The books must actually be bought by customers. Or else the entire thing is a failure.
I love you, poetry. I do truly and wholeheartedly. But we have some shit to get through. Mary Oliver and Billy Collins might not be adored by the poetry cognoscenti. They may, in fact, be looked down upon. But I feel that is the wrong angle to take. Reading them could lead to other poems. Reading them could to something else. Or not.Either way, I'm good with it
To close, I give you a prose poem that I adore. I carried a copy of it in my wallet for many years. Now I have a copy on my desk. I know it by heart.
"Part of Eve's Discussion"
It was like the moment when a bird decides not to eat from your hand,
and flies, just before it flies, the moment the rivers seem to still
and stop because a storm is coming, but there is no storm, as when
a hundred starlings lift and bank together before they wheel and drop,
very much like the moment, driving on bad ice, when it occurs to you
your car could spin, just before it slowly begins to spin, like
the moment just before you forgot what it was you were about to say,
it was like that, and after that, it was still like that, only
all the time.