Sometimes poems are not ABOUT one thing. But, I cannot say they simply ARE; the mere fact of their existence counts for little. It is not enough that a collection of words gets splattered on a page. I think of a poem as a small cosmos. Poems are both LIKE a small cosmos as well as BEING a small cosmos (both simile and metaphor work here). Like a cosmos, they are made of parts: sound, letters, words, observations, ideas, readers, writers, rhymes and rhythms, etc for poems; and particles, atoms, molecules, crystals, stones, living beings, planets and stars, etc for the cosmos. Like a cosmos, they show order and symmetry on many scales: phonological, symbolic, human, geological, grammatical, mimetic, cognitive, and so on. Like a cosmos as the point of view expands, super-symmetries and clusters appear.
The magic in poetry is that not only is a poem LIKE a cosmos, it can BE, maybe simply, IS a cosmos of reader, hearer, speaker, writer, words, sounds, spaces, histories, intentions, interpretations, meanings, etc. Every poem carries its shadow and illuminates third spaces. There is a lot of dark matter under and behind and dark energy throughout.
I value poems to the extent they reveal their cosmic super symmetries, simply. As I wrote elsewhere, poems like other arts, start journeys of a thousand miles. (https://rworld2.net/2010/12/10/a-journey-of-a-thousand-miles-problem-jockox3-the-limits-of-my-anarchism-ukuncut/)
A poem doesn’t have to MEAN one thing or be reducible to one point, although of course a poem may choose to make itself available for reduction – maybe even needs to be reducible to work. A poem may tell a story, depict a scene, argue politics, fire passion, or may be pure sound like Michael Maclure’s Ghost Tantras. But whatever else a poem does, I look for the cosmic super-symmetries, those “hyperlinks to more” or that 1,000 mile question. My friend, Clay Debevoise, an American poet, photographer, and artist put it nicely: a poem is virtual hypertext.