Jejudo, South Korea
You learn how to write good poetry, not through workshops of CA or any of the above, you don't learn how to write good poetry by discussing linebreaks, or rhyme schemes, or the importance of profound metaphysical metaphorical allegories, you learn how to write good poetry by reading good poetry, by paying attention to what has gone on before you, you learn by being influenced by the tradition.
Now, I like to do the things above, but most of that is simply abstractions from the real thing, a kind of reductionist, nuts and bolts attitude, a short cut because you know, the tradition is difficult and I wanna be me kind a, sort a thing. It can help, but it's more of a pointer toward the real thing than the keys to the golden door of goodness.
Again, I like to discuss these things, but not because they give me answers to what good poetry is, but because they help me understand the tradition better, they help me see my prejudices and my blind spots (and gives me the choice of holding on to those or to shed them).
They help me see the poetry better.
There's a comment I've heard bandied about at other websites that I've never quite understood, "For every one poem you write, read a hundred." Well, why not read one good poem a hundred times? Breath it in, attempt to understand it in it's full complexity and perhaps even more importantly in its full possibility, its endless possibility (This is not the same thing as intentional ambiguity). The problem with 'reading a hundred poems' is that, if followed, you'll inevitably feel forced to read poetry and you'll skim and most likely miss the whole point of what makes it good in the first place.
My favorite example of this are Ginsberg imitators. He makes poetry look easy but few match his ability at self-irony, probably his strongest selling point if you ask me. Why do they miss it? Because they aren't reading him, they are reading him in order to write poetry themselves. Ezra Pound, speaking of Eliot, once simply responded, "Read him, just read him" and I can't think of any better advice than that.
While it seems that I've only convinced myself of this, I still believe that poetry, the genre, is defined by the line break. I believe this because I believe when you break something up into lines, you read it, both physically and mentally, in a different way without them. It actually opens up the possibility of a more concentrated language, a different way of looking at the same words (and of new attention to different words) than would otherwise be the case). But many have confused this idea (many who claim an expertise in the reading and judgement of poetry I might add) with the idea that a good poem is made with line breaks, that a poem, by definition, must be good. This is a silly idea and it misses the whole point of classification.
On the other hand, there's no good reason why a journal entry can't also be good, it's exactly the same thing, a confusion of genre distinctions with quality distinctions. I suspect that's why people often write poetry rather than prose, the idea of quality is already embedded in what it is you are doing. That's a mistake.
So what's good?
I've come up with theories on it, many have, including Ron and Ron and I have said similar things about it, but in the end, it doesn't really matter what theory you espouse so long as you are reading the tradition (I include modern, postmodern, and traditional in this application of tradition) for tradition is not dead, tradition is why you do the things you don't think about (the past is dead).
So, what is good?
If you're looking for an answer, a student/teacher relationship, there are plenty of other places to go, but I don't find them any more satisfactory than what people say here, "Poetry is subjective, I like what I like." In fact, I think it's simply the same thing with a another different and equally useless word, "Poetry is objective, I like what I like." Neither answers the question, they seem more political attitudes than anything else. Neither points to what I think is the real value of asking the question: What is good poetry?
Not what is good poetry to you?
Not what is good poetry for professors?
Not what is good poetry in order to write good poetry?
But what is good poetry?
The answer changes because people continue to talk and try to answer the question. It's an infinite conversation.
I like being a part of that, not because I think anything I say is significant (significance also changes -- look at Eliot's dominance fifty years ago compared with today.), but because I like doing that.
One final comment, the reference to common poetry for common people is a mistake as well. Again, there is no necessary relationship between what is good and what class you are from (or think you are from). Read Derek Atridge's "Poetic Rhythm:An Introduction" for how complex common poetry can get. Of course, there's no reason that complex poetry should necessarily be good, but the subtext above seemed to imply that simplicity was common and complexity was elitist.
In a nutshell, most people really prefer to avoid the question (perhaps because it's not a high school math test, perhaps because it's not a question for trivial pursuit?) because, I think, any answer can never be summarized in a poetry handbook or a sound bite, it can only be talked about, it can only be read.
Read him (or her), just read.