So poetry&prayer are bros now?
I really like the notion of the poem as carapace, and I'd like to insert that the other half of that coin is the reader filling the carapace (poem) with life (meaning, connotation, symbol etc.)
And while I like what you're saying, I think the last line is exactly what someone like Dale Smith is afraid of: language being stripped of any signified meaning whatsoever, as if language becomes a prayer that is completely between you and a (fictional) higher power. At that point wouldn't the poem become completely self-indulgent? And I don't think that's what you are rallying for. I would put poetry that people write in a journal and never show anyone in that category of prayer maybe. I don't know... it's not very clear to me what you were getting at.
I think your first sentence best represents how poetry engages an audience/community: "Poetry is an imagined successful conversation (perfect conveyance of ideas) to "the Other." And how it can still be a model for social change/responsibility. We are constantly reacting to social stimulus through our writing.
Great post. Keep it up.
I started responding in the comments section, but my comment got long so I'll just post it here:
When I posited that poem and prayer exist in the same spectrum of language I only meant that in both cases they seek to engage in perfect conversation with something (in this case, I'm becoming more and more certain that the only person who can possibly be on the receiving end of such a communication is the person who originates it. i.e. the poet is poeming to her/himself the pray-er is praying to her/himself.) I think there is something lost (maybe not "lost" but not present) in the written poem -- like a filter exists between the poem's origins in the poet's mind and it's eventual migration to the page.
I'd go one step further, actually, and suggest that everything done to sustain one's own life is "self-indulgent" -- that every utterance made during a person's lifetime is inherently "self-indulgent." Not self-indulgent in a pejorative sense, but rather in the sense of "exertion of one's self on one's surroundings in an attempt to connect with something -- the exertion of oneself on one's surroundings in search of existential affirmation (i.e. if I interact with this thing and it interacts back with me, then I exist.)"
I think people like Dale Smith use words like "self-indulgent" just because they are readily available and exist with certain connotations attached -- I don't think there is necessarily anything wrong with a poem being self-indulgent. I also don't think that a written poem shared with other people can be 100% self-indulgent because someone who reads the poem will interact with it in some way -- so I guess I'm saying the original thought in the poet is a self-indulgent one and then once it's on the page it's out of our hands.
Plus, I think Dale was trying to imply the notion behind something like Flarf was the self-indulgent thing. I don't think he's talking about the poetry at all -- rather, he's attacking the pre-poem.