Poetry is a rhizome, a root system, a web of connections. It's not a tree with the best at the top and the worst at the bottom and lots of rather indifferent branches in between. It springs up in all kinds of ways and in all kinds of forms. It isn't just the Faber/Cape/Picador hegemony, nor is it just the experimental/post-avant. It takes in the visual and the sentimental: a Christmas card verse is still a poem, even if it isn't what many of us would choose to call 'good poetry'.
To say it's only poetry if it's 'good poetry' is to put a fence around certain kinds of poetry and say 'this is poetry and this is not' and poetry essentially had no fence. It includes Bob Cobbing and Helen Steiner Rice whether we like those poets or not.
That doesn't mean that all poetry is 'good' and there is no such thing as 'bad poetry': but what is considered bad cannot be rationally decided upon. A 'good sonnet' is not necessarily the most metrically correct; nor is good free verse just chopped-up prose. A good visual poem is aesthetically and visually pleasing; but isn't necessarily the one with the most paraphrasable meaning. If one writes a piece of 'inspirational verse' one isn't terribly interested in the subtlety of meaning, or even getting the metre absolutely correct. One is interested in inspiring certain sentiments.
No one anthology of any country's poetry can represent the whole range of poetry in that county. I'll believe that's possible when Wendy Cope sits next to Keston Sutherland in an anthology. Nobody can like everything. I've met people for whom doggerel is the only poetry worth reading, performance poetry the only poetry worth hearing, and others who generally confine themselves to avant garde, sound poetry, visual poetry, and everything in between. People who think if it doesn't rhyme it ain't poetry.
Poetry is a meadow. In a meadow, there are many kinds of plants, all fighting for attention from the sun (the reader?). Will we please everybody? Probably not. There is good and bad poetry (poems that survive and poems that do not may be one way of distinguishing) but not good and bad poetries. And survival isn't always the point: sometimes a poem is meant to be thrown away when read, or even written.
A Happy New Year to all poets.
The Winner of the 8th Fortnight Poetry Prize is...
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