I may be reporting old news on old men again, but looking over my post on Joseph Epstein below, I realized I had forgotten to mention he was the author of a much-talked and written-about article, "Who Killed Poetry?" -- which I remember both impressed and very much depressed me when I read it in Commentary back in the late 80's. In it, as I recall, Epstein argues that poetry is "flourishing in a vacuum", that an overwhelming production of essentially insipid work is being artificially stimulated by the grants and MFA system, which has helped to choke off poetry appreciation in the culture. Viz. Dana Gioia's Can Poetry Matter?, a thesis written along the same lines only two years later. Looking up the Epstein piece, I came across this 1989 article by Donald Hall, Death to the Death of Poetry, which is intended to refute it. I daresay I loved it. It convincingly nays the naysayers of contemporary poetry (excuse my neighing!), and gives a bang-on diagnosis of the so-called "problem" of poetry appreciation in our culture. Wish I had read it back in '89 when it first appeared.
Well... "Bang-on" may have been facile. Actually, looking over Can Poetry Matter? again, I see Gioia takes many of Don Hall's arguments into account, and that his article is meant to gainsay boosters like Hall. A kind of synthesis of the two antitheses, in other words. A number of Gioia's observations I feel are quite astute, particularly vis-a-vis the self-imposed limitations of a great many poetry readings (poetry only readings, authors reading their only own work -- those limitations still largely hold today). However, I'd say Don Hall's feisty essay injects a positive note that makes it necessary reading for anyone with vital interest in the issue.
I wonder, has anyone convincingly raised the cudgels since? Or could these essays, dating from more than 15 years ago, be considered "the last words" in that debate?