To grow as a poet, you have to read in a wide array of aesthetics and styles. David Antin says somewhere that poets suffer when they aren’t willing to widen their “discourse radius.” I like that term.
I write far fewer poems than I did when I was in my twenties or thirties, but I find myself more or less satisfied with a greater percentage of the ones I do write. And the poems take longer to gel. The notebooks where I jot down ideas tend to be filled with lots of fragments, and lists of possible topics for poems (and I mean topics.) But I use the notebooks mostly as a kind of commonplace book. I jot down passages from books I read -- if it’s a passage that intrigues me enough, I have to see how it looks in my own hand. I tend to read more history, nonfiction, science, biography and various oddball stuff than I read poetry, and the purpose of doing this is sometimes merely to preserve special and eccentric facts that intrigue me -- I read the other day that Vermeer’s widow had to give two of his most accomplished paintings to the family baker, who’d given the Vermeers bread on credit for many years, and was finally calling in the debt. There has to be a poem in that. The trick is to find some other motif or subject to juxtapose with it.… A poem of mine [is] initially about some glorious and sad photos that were taken of the last known ivory-billed woodpecker. Yet just describing those images wasn’t enough to make a poem. But suddenly the poem took a turn and began talking about the Delta and Chicago blues, and a particular bluesman, Sonny Boy Williamson. The poem became a meditation on extinction in a larger sense -- as a musical form, the blues is majestic, but its audience keeps dwindling and no one presently seems to be meaningfully extending or developing the form. The blues are an endangered species veering toward extinction too, which I find immensely sad. It’s the meeting of these two subjects which gave me the chance to finish a draft of the poem, and gave me a challenge for revising it, since the two subjects had to meld and commingle linguistically, not just be juxtaposed with one another. This is also a way of saying that I pay much more attention to the form and the music of the poem than I did when I was younger.