"Make it nude!" is what you think the old poet is exhorting, which sounds like solid advice, at least in theory, but you're not sure how it applies to you as a young poet.
...Easy enough if only you were a painter. Take the clothes off the model! Or if you were a novelist, or, better yet, a filmmaker--hey, let's everybody strip, get the cameras going, see some action.
But in this case, poetry resists easy solutions. Even when you're yearning to sell it out as crassly as possible (Enough daffodils! Enough bloody goddamn skylarks! Let's have some sex!), it often fails to cooperate.
The contrast between poet and novelist is instructive. Many of the most influential books of the last century aroused--in different ways--the censor and the lay reader. These were books that got the hormones going in a way poetry rarely can. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley, Joyce's Ulysses... Even Updike's Rabbit, Run raised hot legal and aesthetic issues--the permissibility of the shamelessly wanton in prose that was otherwise decorous and artful.
Of course, poetry, too, can make use of "shocking" words or images--but the effect is rarely successfully shocking. Surely one of the reasons Philip Larkin's "This Be the Verse" is so broadly familiar (perhaps the only British poem of the last fifty years that my undergraduate students dependably know) is that it's one of those rare poems where fuck makes an effective appearance. Larkin hits you with it in the opening quatrain:
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
Yeats evidently considered using the phrase "fuck in the foam" rather than "copulate in the foam" at the close of "News for the Delphic Oracle," but concluded that the f-word would provide more distraction than drive. Poets are notoriously licentious in their personal lives, but it's a rare poem that provides anything of the jolting, juiced-up sort that would send a pubescent boy, slender book under his arm, up to the attic. One of the reasons I've always admired e. e. cummings's sonnet that begins "i like my body..." is that its rawness stays aggressively, perpetually raw, particularly the lines
...i like kissing this and that of you,
i like,slowly stroking the,shocking fuzz
of your electric fur...
(Incidentally, it's amazing how much is achieved here by the illogical, wonderful misplacement of a couple of commas; when I experimentally removed them, while transcribing the poem, the lines went dead.)
Poetry resists. It resists the crass, even when we aspire to crassness. And it resists the new, even when we, having at last heard Pound correctly, aspire to make it new.
Another way to put this is that poetry can be a surpassingly stable medium. The iambic pentameter line prevailed as its defining norm, its signature sound, for something like half a millennium, from Chaucer to Stevens, and one need only look at a living formal master like Richard Wilbur to see how potent it remains. The underlying architecture in a 16th-century sonnet by Sir Philip Sidney and a 21st-century sonnet by Seamus Heaney is remarkably similar--from well before the age of Newton into a post-Einsteinian universe!
And the iambic pentameter line will often assert its primacy insidiously, surreptitiously. I'm struck by how often even in defiantly free verse it creeps in. William Carlos Williams's "The Red Wheelbarrow," for instance, though arrayed in eight terse lines, is at bottom a near-perfect iambic pentameter couplet.
What are we to make of poetry's resistance to change? Among poets with formal leanings, the urge to adopt traditional forms is often perceived as some sort of declaration of due allegiance, a moral good--which strikes me as a big mistake. Among those devoted to free verse, there's often a feeling that old methods and cadences can easily be shaken off--another big mistake.
No, poetry is a little like one of those beloved aged relatives who "know what they want." In a warmhearted moment, you decide to take Great-Aunt Poetry or Great-Uncle Poetry to a hip new fancy bistro. You will introduce Poetry to a new way of dining. You say, "I can recommend the seared mahi mahi, and the quail stuffed with tasso is also excellent." And that dear aged relative of yours replies, "I'd like pot roast. And a baked potato." And you say, "Have you thought about the pomegranate-marinated lamb medallions? Or what about the oysters with the lemon cayenne aioli?" And Poetry answers, "Pot roast, dear. A baked potato. And butter, if they have it."