We might call this the readable poetry project, or poetry typeset for maximum readability for those who, like me, suffer from the inability to profitably read words plastered on a page as if by shotgun. This inability is itself caused from the lack of reading poetry, which, following the chain, is caused by so much bad poetry being praised.
In order that any poem be great, the words must stand on their own. A good test of a bad poem is that once the choreography of the page is removed, what’s left is lifeless or banal. Try it and see. Here’s a snippet from Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou:
Men themselves have wondered what they see in me. They try so much but they can’t touch my inner mystery. When I try to show them they say they still can’t see. I say, it’s in the arch of my back, the sun of my smile, the ride of my breasts, the grace of my style. I’m a woman phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, that’s me.
Now try Ulysses set as prose. I think you will agree that Tennyson, unlike most modern (read academic) poets, did not suffer from typesetitis.
Ulysses. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1842
It little profits that an idle king, by this still hearth, among these barren crags, matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole unequal laws unto a savage race, that hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink life to the lees. All times I have enjoyed greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those that loved me, and alone; on shore, and when through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades vext the dim sea. I am become a name; for always roaming with a hungry heart much have I seen and known—cities of men and manners, climates, councils, governments, myself not least, but honored of them all—and drunk delight of battle with my peers, far on the ringing plains of windy Troy. I am a part of all that I have met; yet all experience is an arch wherethrough gleams that untravelled world whose margin fades for ever and for ever when I move. How dull it is to pause, to make an end, to rust unburnished, not to shine in use! As though to breathe were life! Life piled on life were all too little, and of one to me little remains; but every hour is saved from that eternal silence, something more, a bringer of new things; and vile it were for some three suns to store and hoard myself, and this gray spirit yearning in desire to follow knowledge like a sinking star, beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
This is my son, mine own Telemachus, to whom I leave the sceptre and the isle—well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill this labor, by slow prudence to make mild a rugged people, and through soft degrees subdue them to the useful and the good. Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere of common duties, decent not to fail in offices of tenderness, and pay meet adoration to my household gods, when I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail; there gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners, souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me—that ever with a frolic welcome took the thunder and the sunshine, and opposed free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old; old age hath yet his honor and his toil. Death closes all; but something ere the end, some work of noble note, may yet be done, not unbecoming men that strove with Gods. The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks; the long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep moans round with many voices. Come, my friends. ‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world. Push off, and sitting well in order smite the sounding furrows; for my purpose holds to sail beyond the sunset, and the baths of all the western stars, until I die. It may be that the gulfs will wash us down; it may be we shall touch the Happy Isles, and see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though we are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are—one equal temper of heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate, but strong in will to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.