As we have learned, virtually anything can be a subject for a poem.
The poet Pablo Neruda, said that there were only eleven subjects. Now that is interesting especially since we also know he didn’t really provide the list of eleven (that I can find anyway). However, in her book, The Discovery of Poetry, Frances Mayes gives us her list of potentials, including “beginnings, memory, art, time,” etc. I submit these as they relate the most to the settings/situation topic discussed here.
There are numerous options for settings. What if we are next to a quiet stream? Nothing much happens, but then we see a water strider tiptoe across the water. Suddenly a large-mouth bass grabs it. All at once we have a situation and we can write about it. We could describe a natural setting, no conflicts, just words about how we feel one with nature. Or we can take this setting and let the situation become a metaphor for something larger in life, predator vs prey; now we are witnesses.
As poetry has evolved, so have types of poems appeared that especially describe particular settings. Types include pastoral (usually a rural landscape, maybe some sheep); aubade (usually about dawn, maybe a lover who leaves); carpe diem (where the setting is time); and ars poetica (where the poet writes about writing poetry, some situation). There are more but you get the idea.
I think a poem could have master settings and this takes me back to Neruda’s eleven subjects. I tend to think there are three “master subjects” for poets: Love, Death, and Themselves. Poets historically take these three, put them into a variety of situations and settings and then reveal and possibly resolved.
In Cesare Pavese’s poem, “Grappa in September,” this line that starts a stanza:
“This early, you see only women./… Then he ends with these two lines:
“steeping them to their depths in the soft air. The streets/ are like the women. They ripen by standing still.” (see Mayes’s book). Masterful!