I find it very difficult to understand the thinking of poets who spend a lifetime writing and publishing the same kinds of poems, over and over and over. I don’t mean poets whose work simply bears certain hallmark stylistic or thematic elements—that’s the mark of many a genius whose bodies of work are varied and exploratory. I also don’t mean poets who always write in traditional form, or who always write in the freest of verse—these poets often achieve great variety of effect within similar structures. What I mean are poets who write poems in the same voice, tone, and mood, with identical stylistic techniques, and which have the same aesthetic effects on the reader in book after book after book. Living poets that spring to mind are Kay Ryan, James Tate, Mary Oliver, Charles Wright, and Billy Collins (who, to his credit, has published a book of haiku with Modern Haiku Press—the Billy Collins book you've never read, but should).
Don’t get me wrong—I like the work of each of these poets. But it does trouble me on some level that the reasons I like the poems in Book A are the same reasons I like the poems in Books B, C, D, and E. The poems look the same, sound the same, taste, feel, smell the same! What mundane activity will be the subject of Collins’ melancholy humor today? Which animal or plant will be the source of wisdom in Oliver this week? I wonder what Ryan’s line breaks will be like in this new book . . .
Are these poets so essentially un-creative that the work they create is homogeneous? Or have they simply found a style at which they can achieve mastery? Are poets who employ various styles, forms, and voices diluting their abilities, Jills and Jacks of all trades and masters of none?
And then one thinks of Emily Dickinson, whose mastery is so undeniable and her achievement so towering that one begins to think that her work alone is sufficient reason for any poet to attempt to build a body of work made of bricks of the same color, size, and shape . . . One thinks of the haiku masters, whose bodies of work are contained in tiny syllabic packages of often astonishing beauty and power . . .
Dear reader, I seek your input.