"What, then, do we assume greatness looks like? There is no one true answer to that question, no neat test or rule, since our unconscious assumptions are by nature unsystematic and occasionally contradictory. Generally speaking, though,
the style we have in mind tends to be grand, sober, sweeping — unapologetically authoritative and often overtly rhetorical."
Orr also points out the changing structure of the poetry world throughout the 20th century, its adoption by the middle class and subsequent lessening of "looking" great:
"Greatness isn’t simply a matter of potentially confusing concepts; it’s also a practical question about who gets to decide what about whom. Our assumptions about poetic greatness are therefore linked to the reputation-making structures of the poetry world — and changes in those structures can have peculiar effects on our thinking. For most of the 20th century, the poetry world resembled a country club. One had to know the right people; one had to study with the right mentors. The system began to change after the G.I. Bill was introduced (making a university-level poetic education possible for more people), and that change accelerated in the 1970s, as creative writing programs began to flourish. In 1975, there were 80 such programs; by 1992, there were more than 500, and the accumulated weight of all these credentialed poets began to put increasing pressure on poetry’s old system of personal relationships and behind-the-scenes logrolling. It would be a mistake to call today’s poetry world a transparent democracy (that whirring you hear is the sound of logs still busily being rolled), but it’s more democratic than it used to be — and far more middle class. It’s more of a guild now than a country club."
Does this mean I'm a philistine and all those I associate with are peasants? Possibly. But it is also noteworthy, I believe, that many of those I associate with, though they don't read contemporary poetry, write poetry--in some cases books and books of it. In my world, poetry has become about self-expression, not "greatness," not even about culture. With that in mind, it is easy to see why the "Great(ness) of Poetry" is diminishing; it is exploring the little day-to-day hurts in Everyman's life, not the grand mysteries of the universe. Rather than lamenting this fact, perhaps we should accept the fact that the motivation behind poetry has changed, is different than it once was, and therefore no longer needs to be "great."