I've read a number of contemporary poetry collections lately, and a few thoughts have come to mind. First, what exactly does a critic mean when he says a poet "employ[s] the plain style with great virtuosity"? Second, does a poet's flashy ability to write in many different styles enhance or detract from the cohesion of her work? And, third, is inner chaos better revealed by way of strictly controlled poetic architecture or unframed outbursts?
Of course, there's no single answer to any of these questions. One poet may thrive on the approach that wrecks another poet's work. An apprentice poet may need to experiment with radically different styles as he searches for the conduit between his verbal skills and his mysterious inner life. A mature poet may suddenly need to reconfigure her written voice, or she may slide more intensely into the voice she has been honing all her life. Some of us are habit-driven for very good reasons; some of us cannot grow without drastic change.
Still, I've been thinking about these questions. Does a plainspoken poet use his avuncular, colloquial voice as an invitation or a shield? Do stylistic experiments allow a poet to avoid concentrating on the depths, or do they give her a new way to penetrate the darkness? Are boundaries necessary? Do they appear where we think they appear?