Arielle told me a few weeks ago to try to determine which poet, of all the poets currently writing, I myself, would most want my own "career" (there's that word, for better or worse) to resemble. In terms of literary output and scope of that work, I was thinking CD Wright of course, one of my favorites. I think her work, for the most part, is accessible (ugh, where did that word come from) to your general reader, and yet challenging and interesting to your more specialized, poetic crowd. And that, is, of course, what I aim for, usually whether I consciously know it or not. Of course this may be attempting to have my cake and eat it too --to have the wide readership and appeal of someone like Olds or Oliver, and yet not be quite so palatable and vanilla. And you can't ignore her sheer output--varying from collections to book length project. And yet, there's that whole deep south and/or Appalachian thing with most of her work--her focus, though it manifests itself in a bunch of different ways. And we all have our obsession, overriding arcs in our work that moves across individual projects. I've been thinking what mine might be, certain things that crop up again and again.:
the body and language
women and transgression/fear/madness
women and knowledge
the body and endangerment
Edit: Given the banalness of contemporary culture at large, it occurs to me later that Olds and Oliver might have such an audience because their work IS like it is, why they're household names (as much as one can be) while arguably better mainstream poets like Forche, Dove, even Gluck, are not so much. It might also be the easiness of their categorization (like nature poetry? read Oliver. Freudian father issues? Olds..) I'd say Jorie Graham, but I'm not sure how much of that is real popularity and how much is the amount of power she has in the academic po-biz, rather than her actual work, which I'm about 50/50 on.