I don't like a lot of modern poetry. It's too purely personal, in all the ways that implies. Reading again Peter Ackroyd's biography of William Blake, some 26 years after I first encountered it, I come upon a passage that strikes me even more forcibly now than it did the first time I read it. After all the technical and thematic innovations of the last several centuries, poetry has lost its centrality to our literary culture. Without abandoning what we have learned about how to write, and without retreating from the expanded repertoire of subjects we have learned to write about, we need to go back and pick up where Blake left off. Ackroyd says of Blake's early verse:
...just as it would be absurd to expect a painting or engraving directly to express the 'feelings' of the artist, it would be quite wrong to approach Blake's poetry with a Romantic belief that he is engaged in an act of confessional lyricism or brooding introversion. To some extent, like an engraver, he is subdued by his craft. But he also... knew that he belonged to something larger than his own self. There may be an occasional personal allusion; there is a continual attention to death, for example, while envy and sexual jealousy seem to have been two of the spurs towards creativity in his case. One phrase is repeated twice because Blake liked either the sound or the sense of it: "lord of thyself, thou then art lord of all'. In his attachment to fables of the past, or to imaginary landscapes, there may also be some need to create an alternative world in which he might hide or lose himself. But these are essentially poems of dramatic narration or thematic argument.