"What makes a poem great? What standards do we use for judging poetic excellence? To an extent, these are variants on an even more basic question. What is poetry? Poetry is, after all, not a neutral or merely descriptive term but one that implies value. What qualities in a piece of verse (or prose) raise it to the level of poetry? The questions face the editor of any poetry anthology. But only seldom do we discuss the criteria that we implicitly invoke each time we weigh the comparative merits of two or more pieces of writing. And to no one's surprise, it turns out to be far easier to recognize the genuine article than to articulate what makes it so, let alone to universalize from a particular instance. Thus, so astute a reader as Randall Jarrell will linger lovingly on the felicities of Robert Frost's late poem "Directive" only to conclude sheepishly: "The poem is hard to understand, but easy to love."
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