I'll be the first one to admit that the people who tend to admire poetry the most are also poets themselves. Sometimes a clever metaphor or allusion is lost on those who are not used to reading poetry. Poetry tends to be more concise, to say more with fewer words. Like eating Campbell's condensed soup straight from the can, poetry can be a little strong for many palates. From my high school students, to my parents, to even my wife, poetry is not something that is usually read. It wasn't always that way, though. At one time, poetry was included in newspapers and popular magazines. Many poets became household names, such as the Fireside Poets of the 19th century, or such poets as Robert Frost or Maya Angelou. I wonder, though, if the fault lies entirely with the modern, technology-savy-yet-unliterate average Joe or possibly with poets themselves.
In an essay written by John Barr, president of the Poetry Foundation, entitled "American Poetry in the New Century," Barr declared, "American poetry is ready for something new because our poets have been writing in the same way for a long time now. There is fatigue, something stagnant about poetry being written today." Poetry has been largely absent from public life, whether the classroom, bookstore, newspaper, or mainstream media, they all have "a morale problem," that poems are written only with other poets in mind. For that reason, according to Barr, they do not sell. He thinks poets need to write poetry that is more robust, resonant, and above all, entertaining. In one section of the essay entitled, "Live Broadly, Write Boldly," he urged poets to be like Hemingway and seek experience outside of the poetry circles or academia establishments. Take a safari, run with the bulls, go marlin fishing, just get out and experience life. That is what he believes the public will connect with -- real life.
I think Billy Collins is such a successful poet (having sold over 500,000 books of poetry) because of this, besides the fact that he is good at what he does. He comes to the reader unpretentious with poems about everyday occurences that end up being slightly more than that, and leaves us with something understandable to think about. I am no Billy Collins (watch him to become a household name someday), but I strive in my own writing to appeal not just to the poet but to anybody willing to take the time to read a poem. Am I successful in this? I think the jury is still deliberating on that.
Source: Goodyear, Dana. "The Moneyed Muse." The New Yorker. February 19 & 26, 2007. 122-135.