The current debate about political poetry in the Morning Star, centred as it seems to be on content - a poem about poverty, for example, is deemed political whereas a poem about an author's cat or lover is not - misses the point.
In my view, the concept of sensibility provides a more fruitful way in to identifying and understanding what might be called political poetry.
There are two types of poetic sensibility. The first is the passive sensibility. Poets of the passive sensibility tacitly accept the circumstances of the world in which they find themselves and write in an essentially unsystematic and occasional way about aspects of their engagement with that world.
Poets of the passive sensibility have a promiscuous roving eye. They spectate on their own experience with a view to making observations which they might transform into poems.
On Monday a sunset above the oil refinery might inspire a sonnet in which beauty set against despoilation provides a metaphor for the modern world.
On Tuesday, the 10th anniversary of the death of the poet's father might provoke a multisection free verse elegy majoring on the tragedy of their mutual estrangement, and so on.
That poets of this type sometimes write pieces condemning war or injustice does not mean they are political poets. They remain essentially passive and reactive, and do not write from any particular position.
Phenomena impact, and they - as unattached egos - write.
Poets of the passive sensibility don't offer any solutions to the issues they identify and they are not powered by ambition or vision.
In fact most poets of this stripe would reject any suggestion that they should offer solutions as being beyond the parameters of the job description. Similarly they might regard the adjectives ambitious and visionary as synonyms for bombastic and pretentious.
For these poets ambition for their work is limited to producing the poem and impressing readers with their skill, sensitivity and virtuosity. These include Seamus Heaney, Simon Armitage, early Sylvia Plath and most poets writing in English.
The second type of sensibility is polemical. Polemical poets write from a position, they are rooted in and powered by world view or vision, and they impose their agenda on their experience.
For these poets themes are a priori and do not stem from opportunistic experience.
For a polemical socialist poet, for example, Monday's oil refinery experience might lead to a poem about alienation in capitalist society. Tuesday's elegy might focus on father's heroic trade union activism on the docks, balanced with the impoverishment of his emotional life and that of his family caused by his brutalised slum upbringing.
Or perhaps it wouldn't.
Polemical poets, being less reactive than passives, are not concerned with "getting a poem" out of the immediate experience. They assimilate experiences, which may emerge organically in their work years later.
In contrast, passive poets are greedy for the moment, lurking in a country churchyard, making notes, soaking up the inspiration then heading to their study to write the poem.
This highlights a key difference between the two types of poet.
For the passive poet, the over-riding aim is to get a poem out of it, whatever it might be. For the polemical poet the aim is to advance the agenda.
The passive has something to write, the polemical poet has something to say.
Polemical poets include Milton, Blake, Hopkins, Eliot, Hill, most of Hughes, perhaps Duffy and most of the enduring names in English poetry.
Most of the poets whose work has endured have been visionaries who have transformed their lived experience in the service of their agenda. Poets do not survive merely because they write good poems, but because they have coherent things to say about important issues and thus are able to create a sustained impression, a defined identity, a brand, even.
Blake the visionary artisan mystic, Plath the self-lacerating narcissist.
Passive poets tend not to survive, although many of their poems have as delightful anthology pieces.
If we want great English poetry that engages with ideas and the world with ferocity and commitment - and is thus political in the most profound sense - we need more poets of the polemical sensibility, rooted in position and vision.
The fact that the passive occasionally break off from meditations on their cats and love lives and channel their inexpert, unaffiliated outrage into one-off poems against war and poverty or in praise of the dignity of Stephen Lawrence's mother is neither here nor there.
It's opportunistic tokenism, neither genuinely political, nor anything I'd want to dignify with the word poem.
Steve Ely is a British poet. His book of poetry Oswald's Book of Hours will be published by Smokestack next year and his novel Ratmen will be available on Blackheath in April 2012.