But to be honest, these days we don't seem to wrestle much with verbose poetic windbags. Mediocre verse tends to fall on the Milly Jourdain side of the equation: a little too delicate, a little too sentimental, a little too nice. Who out there is composing thundering yet metrically flawed Latinate verse? I can't think of anyone. So perhaps the Little Oed definition is promoting a more contemporary connotation, trying to give us some backbone, which, in an era of supportive niceness, we do often seem to lack.
Of course, there are plenty of skewering reviewers; the Internet is rife with cruelty and one-upsmanship. But what about the other problem: those writers who think of poetry as "healing," who assert that "anything can be a poem," who discuss each other's work "positively"? I comprehend the humane urge behind this approach, but it also makes me want to chew nails. Milton risked damnation to create his great work. Damnation! What do healing and positive thinking have to do with the possibility that a poet might burn in eternal torment for daring to write a poem? Whether or not one shares Milton's Puritan beliefs, the absurdity is clear.
So back to poetaster. It's a mean word, invented by a mean man for a mean play. But it does honest work. It asserts that, yes, there is bad poetry out there; yes, there are people striving diligently toward bathos; yes, there are versifiers who are content to be tone-deaf, unadventurous, self-satisfied, and imitative. As I write these words, I truly have no particular individual or group of individuals in mind. And be assured that I don't exempt myself from the crime of mediocrity. All I'm saying is that maybe we need to take the risk of casting our plastic laurels into the dust. Of admitting that we are poetasters. Of trying again, and once again, to shove that rock back up the mountain. Of trying, no matter how hopeless the task might be, to write like a poet who dangles over hellfire. So what if we fail miserably? As Milton reminds us, there are worse fates.