I got tagged by Michael and since the shoe fits, here we go:
The first poem I remember reading/hearing/reacting to was my own. Seriously. I dictated it to my mother at the age of five.
I was forced to memorize numerous poems in school and think memorizing poetry is a great way to internalize the sensibilities. Plus, it gives you a calorie-free portable pleasure.
I read poetry because I can't help myself. Or perhaps it is how I help myself--out of the skin of this world and into something wholly new. I wonder if certain people are naturally more attuned to the subtle magic of words and I'm a lucky one of them, or if I just hung in there long enough to learn how to really enjoy poetry. Either way, I know that my consumption of this art is somewhat uncanny. And I don't care. I read poetry because I need to.
A poem I'm likely to think about when asked about a favorite poem is "Old Men Playing Basketball" by B.H. Fairhchild, the title poem of The Wild Iris by Louise Glück or a new favorite, Lobocraspis Griseifusa by Ted Kooser. To me, these are nearly perfect poems (if such a strange thing exists).
I write poetry, but don't let that scare you. When my wife and I first met, she was uneasy when I came out of the closet about writing poems, as naturally she would be--because what I meant by poems could have easily been maudlin crap or esoteric mental gymnastics. Admitting to poetry is dangerous. Poetry is a really big house and most of the rooms are currently occupied by highly eccentric characters.
My experience with reading poetry differs from my experience with reading other types of literature because poetry is to literature what Cognac is to wine: cogent, distilled, and fierce. You find poetry in other forms, but never the other way around. How many times have you heard someone say something was "like poetry" or "the poetry of ..."? That's my experience: that poetry is not only a type of literature but the idea of literature at its best.
I find poetry before poetry finds me. But when I'm lucky, we meet in an undisclosed location at a mutually convenient time.
I think poetry is like classical music in the way it has been marginalized in modern society, in the way it requires some dedication to learn to appreciate, and in the significant degree of pleasure, stimulation, and self-betterment it ultimately affords to those who perservere in their love affair with it.