Anne observes in conversation that the notion of "folk poetry" conceived as an outsidery independence, in opposition to poetry created in a collective context, is very tricky, since as soon as you can read, you're already on your way to being social, being contextualized as part of a collective rather than as a monad (I'm combining her words with my own reflections).
Nevertheless, as Anne has also pointed out (earlier, in another conversation), part of what distinguishes truly innovative literary work is its apparent lack of what is conventionally accepted in its time as competence. This "incompetence" may well take on the look of folkiness, or even folksiness ("folkness"). It doesn't have to, though. It can also take on the look of a haughtily hermetic exclusivity that some disparagingly call "academic."
Not that there isn't an apt object for the term "academic poetry," but people too often make the simplistic equation: academic poetry = poetry written by persons who happen to be academics. Academic poetry, I say, may just as well be written by anxiously emulative parties outside academia. If it's academic enough, it goes full circle to being so weird that even (especially?) academia rejects it. Anyway, the only justification I can see for using the term derogatorily is as a corrective to transparent, failed displays of erudition (when they do not fail, they are not transparent).
So what would a true "folk poet" look like? I guess her or his assimilation of social conventions associated not just with current taste and style, but with basic literacy, would have to be conspicuously imperfect. John Clare comes to mind as someone whose evident brilliance stands in stark contrast to the unavoidable fact that in some ways he can barely put together a sentence (although I have to say, not being at all a Clare expert, that this may be a mistaken impression on my part). Who of poetic note in the past century is comparably "incompetent"? Peter Orlovsky? Or is that an act? I really don't know enough about him to say.
But before I go any further with this line of thought, I'm obliged to question the whole concept: do we want to equate "folk" universally with "incompetence" in this way? Of course not. Folk musicians, for example, can be considered incompetent only according to a very narrowly chauvinist definition of competence as the mastery of a set of conventions associated with the dominant version of what counts as "real" music. Folk musicians learn from other musicians, and their success, unless it is achieved ironically (as in the case of The Shaggs) is dependent at least in good part upon the standards upheld by those other musicians. Folk visual artists may seem to be a partial exception, as their work is so intimately connected to mimesis as a factor of immediate perception, or some abstracted derivative from that principle. "Competence" at this point becomes a meaningless notion. Writers, on the other hand, cannot even be recognized intelligibly as writers until they have entered into the social covenant of the linguistic code. And when they do that, they are instantly subject to the pangs of influence and tradition and all those literary maladies.
So maybe it is only in the case of writing that the folk/incompetence equation applies. My point is not that writers striving for relevance should deliberately, straight-facedly, court incompetence, as such effort would clearly be hypocritical. Nor is it that the notion of a competence of the kind I'm invoking should be used as a way of policing "legitimate" poetic practice (though unfortunately such policing does occur, both in "academic" and "independent" circles). My point is simply that if you posit a dichotomy between folk(ness) and collectivity in poetry, you have to include the overwhelming majority of practice on one side or the other, which in either case produces such a lopsided imbalance that the distinction becomes useless, on par with "those poets who are outside of any twofold classification of poets and those who are not."