Mark Doty, recent winner of the National Book Award for fire to fire, contributed to a panel discussion at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference in Chicago. He has since generously published his comments at his blog. Here is an excerpt from that contribution:
. . . I left high school when I couldn't stand it any more and signed up at the University of Arizona, where they didn't find out for a while that I had no high school diploma and didn't seem too worried about it when they did. I went right to the poetry workshops, which I loved. We read a very specific group of poets, who were writing the fashionable poems of the day. They were neo-surrealists, or the later flowering of deep imagists, and they were largely men: Robert Bly, James Wright, Galway Kinnell, Mark Strand, W. S. Merwin, and my teacher Richard Shelton. I very much wanted to write in this mode, but it wasn't because I wanted to imitate them, but rather a larger matter than that: I thought that's what poetry was. We did not read, for instance, Robert Lowell, or Mina Loy, to name just two of a great number of poets who'd have thoroughly messed up our parochial vision of the art.
Read Mark's contribution in full at his blog.
I appreciate his honesty. Take heart, beginning poets. Learn from your imitations. Read more poetry. Listen to people as they talk about poetry. Tell them what you think about poetry. Expect to grow. And keep at it.