There are people who want to write poetry. They are quite willing to tell me so, especially when they know I write poetry and have been published. My first question to them is often “Who do you read?” You won’t be surprised (I never am) when they answer, “Well, I don’t actually read much poetry” or some similar (or even worse) answer. I, at that point, generally steer the conversation elsewhere. So, is it a requirement that you read poetry in order to write poetry? I don’t know. I only know that my own work gets better, opens up, and is stimulated by the work of others.
To give poetry non-readers the benefit of the doubt, perhaps they just haven’t stumbled across a poet they like. Their exposure to date has been limited. Maybe they just gave up at some point, not realizing what a vast and wealthy range of work is out there. I just bought The Penguin Anthology of 20th American Poetry, edited by Rita Dove. Including nearly 200 poets, but with short entries (often no more than one poem) for each, it’s a sampler in which almost anyone can find some poet who appeals to him or her. At least I hope so. Dove was not able to include every major poet (she mentions Plath and Ginsberg), so I can accept her not including Bukowsky. But for someone, aspiring poet or not, who doesn’t read much poetry but wants to, this book is a great place to start browsing. I look forward to finding new people myself. Me? Frost, Larkin, Timothy Steele, Bukowski, Billy Collins, Rhina P. Espaillat and many, many more.