No need to put any poets in a "spiritual elite." But the reason the
word "spiritual" continually crops up is that it is hard to find any poetry
which isn't possessed by some sort of hunger or longing, and so the word is a
short hand for that otherwise unnameable or ineffable quality, which permeates
your Auden or your Pound, your Mallarme to the nth and Oppen &
Zukofsky, each in their way. And one might say that that quality is one of
the things reserved by poetry for its way of being and speaking.
Saying this in no way elides the issues of art and consumption or elitism,
since these issues are enwrapped in the poet's work no matter its religious or
non-religious disposition. And yes, reading poetry may be no substitute
for the communal religious experience--though such experiences are often
permeated with poetry, scripture, whatever. But that is about the
consumption of poetry, not why some people write it, what "spiritual" exercise
they may be performing for themselves by doing it.
I, of course, am most interested in the question of consumption, not being a poet myself. And I think that we'd be well served to come up with some other words for that "otherwise unnamable or ineffable quality," whatever it might be, since "spiritual" has so many other implications.
How about a few of you lurkers joining the fray? Josh? Peter? Emily? (I've read that "Lamb Curry" poem--and I know you're out there!)