Sometimes I've been criticized for my repetitive definitive assertive assertions about what "poetry is". But in today's literary climate, a return to basic first principles might be a healthy thing.
The confusion in avant-garde oppositional circles seems to be what it's always been : a displacement of the most basic aspects of poetic making with technical novelty. Imitation, as practiced in all the thousands of MFA programs etc., is castigated as not only unnecessary but as positively bad (The "School of Quietude" polemic is only the latest in a long line); what is put in its place are rotating models of literary rebellion or idiosyncrasy, as if rebellion & idiosyncrasy themselves were the substance of art and poetics. This is the fundamental mistake.
The contempt for imitation reveals an underlying misreading, an erasure of past poetries and their replacement with an a-historical continual revolution. But past poetries will not go away, will not be shunted aside; what the various idioms of futurism reveal, more than anything else, is aesthetic impoverishment and the debasement of literary values.
The oppositionalists read Whitman or Dickinson, for example, as utterly sui generis, geniuses from nowhere, whose lack or displacement of any lineage whatsoever then becomes a model for authenticity. But the activity of poetic making came before them; their technical achievements are a secondary effect of the intensity of their poetic thought, not simply stepping-stones in some kind of diachronic procession of unconventional literary progress or revolution. Literature does not simply "add on" to some "advances" in a linear progression : it wavers over time, swayed by individual authors whose insight & capability allow them to counter whatever rhetorical excesses or inauthenticities overshadow their times.
The basic character of poetic making has never changed. It is a verbal response to reality, a narrative ordering of experience, keyed to harmony (in both its musical and its logical or thematic senses). Praise come naturally to this activity; lyric ardor unites the perception of, and the desire for, what is beautiful; elegy and mourning express its loss; the logic of truth places beauty in a moral context; irony and denunciation are its negative image, its complementary shadow. The technique displayed in the working-out of this activity is secondary, the way Coleridgean fancy is secondary to imagination : poiesis itself is inherent talent, capability, a natural artfulness which emanates technique, rather than proceeding from it.
The great narrative of human experience is illegible without the first perception of the over-arching shape of the narrations which are already there. This is a hard thing to explain, but it gets to the root of the distinction between classicism and revolutionary modernism, or acmeism and futurism. The acmeist, for example, enters into a dialogue which is already ongoing : what this reflects is an aesthetic receptivity - beginning in childhood - to the natural continuity of human expression with time and nature. We learn the beauty of language and songs and stories at our mother's knees; our own artistic endeavors take place in the context of pre-existing beautiful sounds (other poems, other stories, other narrative orders). The world is shaped by the great narratives that preceded us : literature is not merely demystification, a purely negative critical activity of disaffection or disillusionment : it is also a sharing in the delightful apprehension of a stable and recurrent beauty or an underlying order.
This kind of classicism gives rise to those personal canons of aesthetic fitness and rightness which spur the poet to make something likewise, something both new and fitting : something right for the time and place. The great models of the past also challenge the poet to reach beyond the petty, the minor, the vulgar, the repetitive, to make something genuine, authentic and aesthetically meaningful in the clearest terms, for the widest, most disinterested audience.