"this is J. Evans-Pritchard as rewritten by the man who played the sublimely obtuse General Melchett in the “Blackadder” series" (--David Orr)
We can have armies of academics marching forth, measuring poetry. Certainly. But whosoever thinks one can measure the greatness of a poem through a ratio of form and meter to the appropriateness of topic is marching forth under a banner that above all seems to dip sideways, like blinders on a horse. I suppose having poetry explained by Lord/General Melchett (but really actually more the Duke of Wellington) would be appropriate in this context. Obtuse, indeed. If we are to expect a Wellington-tone, it is either pedantry beyond patience or buffoonery the like of which poetry hath not earned.
Poetry does not deal in answers. Poetry deals in many somethings, in meter, in form, in love and death, in stairwells and diseased prostitutes, patroleum, bridges, trochees, spondees, nationalism and above all in nose thumbing at the rules of conventionality.
Since it has been raised to a pedestal-manacled art form (that is "Poetry", that boring tedious pith trite with rhyme and tart with the residue of exclusion) being exposed to reading it comes with the presumption that we are about to enter authoritatively and unyieldingly charted waters. This is both true and not true. It presumes the cult of the poet-prophet, which certainly is a tradition that existed. Not only in an era, but across eras, belonging to a category of poets who seemed very delighted to be much too complicated and self-absorbed for anyone but their chosen followers to get. A cult needs followers, and there have always been plentiful supplies--armies of academics included--of aesthetes who seemed in a state of ecstasy only when they could (can) submit themselves to someone who claims to be much better, smarter, and above all more tortured than they.
Remarkably there have been enough of these followers--poets themselves, often--who have been disenchanted, dismissed or replaced by their masters, and who subsequently took to writing poems about hating their former masters, whom they often posit as a metanym for "Poetic Tradition." I'd almost be willing to suggest that this has not helped poetry's cause; but frankly, few lay readers of poetry would be aware that this is happening, precisely because of the idea that poetry is supposed to be meter and rhyme, with an appropriate subject. Hating one's master is in fact a popular topic in poetry--but it is unseemly for "Poetry", which is supposed to be about greatness, and gods, and indescribable beauty, the love of a fair maiden.
Even great works of Poetry don't only do that. Take for example the canonical "Ode on a Grecian Urn." It's about far more than one might suspect, and not really so much about appreciating ancient beauty.
But there is Poetry, and there is poetry. Or even "Poetry", Poetry, and poetry.
There is convention, there is innovation, neither of which is really absolute, and more often than not those things that seem to us extremely conventional are wickedly innovative. Bach comes to mind.
Ha! Got him with my subtle plan!
At any rate, poetry (like its alter egos "Poetry" and Poetry) is about skill with form (meter, rhyme); but it's what you do with these skills--not reproducing them perfectly, but wittily and perfectly. Rimbaud was not such a rebel when he claimed poetry is deliberate disorientation of the senses. Poets want readers to think. Poetry by definition, even back to ancient Greece, concerns itself with those things that lie outside conventional sense. It is the medium that challenges language and human use of it, pushing, breaking, aggrevating, twisting. Understanding meter and form are only part of the battle--one must see--learn to see--the passion and struggle in the strangest most commonplace things.
The washing machine.
Poetry does not (only) glorify, it explores and imagines, at times reveals or exposes.
We do not decode it, learn to abide by it. We learn to feel it, engage it, argue with it, poke and prod it. Then we learn how to count it. Because then the numbers become interesting.
There is Reading Poetry--that is what we do when we appreciate the perfect meter of the sonnet, because that is what "is done"--and there is reading poetry: that is when we focus our eyes beyond the bars of meter, syllables, and feel the language, taste it, study it. Most of us have Read Poetry in our lives; many fewer have read poetry. When you read poetry, you almost can't believe it, as if you suddenly realized the world in fact looks entirely different than you thought. If it isn't wowing you, you're Reading Poetry. But you will know when you read poetry.
You will know.