This past week, Donald Hall was named the Library of Congress' Poet Laureate Consultant, to give him his full title, and he arrives at a time when poetry in the States is at some sort of crossroads: there are more distribution channels for poetry than ever before, but not one of them is wide enough to reach anything like a mass audience. Today, the poem, like so many other art forms, is marginalized, a handful of True Believers carrying the torch while the rest of the world shrugs and goes on. And where True Believers are involved, there are inevitably turf wars: "jackals snarling over a dried-up well," Cyril Connolly once said.
But is the well truly dry? A thousand books of verse appear each year, and even if most of them wind up remaindered, clearly somebody is buying this stuff, and it can't be just the True Believers: there aren't enough of them. (As a test for myself, I ran down the list of Laureates, starting with Joseph Auslander in 1937, and I was disturbed to find that I recognized, at best, two-thirds of the names and further, that I could connect actual poems I've read and/or heard with only half the names I recognized. I think it's a safe bet that I don't qualify for True Believer status.)
It doesn't help, perhaps, that some things identified as poetry don't actually look like poetry: the trend toward blanker and blanker verse has made all the stuff you learned about scansion and rhyme schemes more or less irrelevant. Of course, not all music is 4/4, not all paintings are realistic, and not all sculptures look like things you recognize, but for some reason, poetry that doesn't at least have some sort of meter seems like prose without word wrap.
Or does it?
Snow fell in the night.
This is quite obviously a poem, if only because if you said "stuporous thanks in the aquamarine morning" in a prose passage people would accuse you of trying to be excessively poetic. But this particular poem (