I'm increasingly ambivalent, even apathetic, toward much of contemporary poetry. My interest seems to be narrowing, along lines that are perhaps predictable to anyone familiar with the general direction my work and that of my most immediate community has taken in the past few years.
At the same time, I feel that I've increasingly relaxed my attitudes toward a larger set of poetic practices and styles for which I once expressed disdain. I no longer find it very useful to maintain an us/them distinction along "experimental" vs. "mainstream" lines.
Increasingly, there is simply poetry I find interesting and poetry I don't. And the latter category, as I've said, is growing.
I find it increasingly difficult to become invested in work that takes either a "traditional" approach to form, tone, theme, imagery, voice, etc., or a traditionally "avant-garde" approach to the same. There are exceptions, of course. But for the most part, if it looks like poetry as such, I'm bored with it. (Note that I'm talking here about contemporary poetry; I still, for whatever reasons, hold most of the same opinions now about poetry up to, oh, 1990 or so, that I've held pretty consistently all along.)
Increasingly, most of the poetry that affects me (I said this would be predictable) is poetry that is in some way conspicuously "unpoetic," a description that no longer has any real meaning in relation to most work which announces itself as experimental, avant-garde, procedural, etc. Stein's famous remark about outlaw and classic literature still holds; there is simply not much that is "outlaw" about a great deal of the current writing that sees itself as following in that tradition.
As MFA programs increasingly refashion themselves to accommodate newer, "edgier" styles, including styles that signal a clear debt to Language and other fairly recent historical movements, the gestures associated with those styles lose their meanings, even when the writers in question perform them in good political conscience (interpret that however you like).
I'm increasingly uncomfortable when my own students find out about my work on the internet and turn in "flarfy" poetry. Not that there's anything wrong with it in and of itself--much of it is quite inventive and funny. But part of me thinks that classroom activity should remain distinct from living practice, that students' time in a workshop is better spent learning to write in meter, for example, or imitating Dickinson/Pound/Coleridge, than in making sestinas out of porn spam. This is partly because I still believe somewhat in the conservative old saw that one should learn figure drawing or whatever before one is qualified to paint abstractly, and partly because when flarf simply becomes another item on the craft-based academic menu (this actually seems to be happening in some places), it loses a large part of its reason for existing.
Academia per se, I maintain, is not the problem. Academia is good. It teaches people stuff. The problem is the unholy alliance between academic creative writing programs and the publishing/arts-funding mafia(s). To the extent that programs offer students palpable knowledge and skills, they are good. To the extent that they are used to groom them for advancement in a spurious hierarchical network of career insiders, they are bad. One might reasonably object that few people would be likely to enroll in any academic program that didn't offer at least the possibility of getting a job out of it. Got a point there.
But back to the unpoetic. What does this term mean? For me it means in part a willingness to fly in the face not so much of general notions of poetic tradition, which are safely petrified anyway, but to resist the stifling influence of self-appointed Guardians of the Ideological Purity of the Experimental Contemporary. An irony here is that those stiflers are usually not, as one might expect, members of a senior avant-garde, such as the Language Poets, but instead, their frustrated generational would-be successors. Or maybe this isn't an irony at all: these are often the same persons who resent the Language Poets' primacy of influence, and who therefore reject outright certain modes and techniques they associate with the Langpos (disjunction, collage, non-referentiality, etc.). As if modes and techniques in themselves could be tethered unproblematically to a single movement or aesthetic.
Since few people besides poets read contemporary poetry, it stands to reason that the readers you are most likely to piss off are other poets. You can't piss off anyone else, because they just don't care: they already hate all poetry in the first place, or they assume that whatever you're doing must be just great because what do they know about it? Furthermore, the gesture of pissing off "mainstream" poets is pretty much exhausted. Most mainstream poets have either provisionally embraced certain aspects of postmodernism, or are so cranky and retrograde that no one takes them seriously anymore. What this all ought to amount to is a sense of complete freedom for poets to write whatever they want; what's surprising is how few poets seem interesting in taking this freedom.