I've been reading endless amounts of back-and-forth criticism surrounding the infamous poetry wars and depressing debates on what the "role of the poet" should be. Forget about the style and content wars, the very role of the poet is contested.
Should the role of a poet be a witness? Should the poet's role be to challenge the limits of language? Should the poet's role be to explain cultural phenomena? She the poet be a peacemaker or instigator? Should the poet's role be beyond any conceivable role?
The thing is, this debate is based on a false premise. We shouldn't conceive of poetry as a role at all. We should conceive of it as a tool. And a tool that can service many roles: culture critic, language manipulator, witness to world events.
Poetry is not a job description. This is why we get so hung-up about it, why the idea of it attaches itself too precariously to our sense of identity.
And this is what causes all the idiotic mud-wrestling.