One of the things I love about poems is their patience. They lie in wait
until they are needed; you never know what line, image, stanza, or whole
poems is available until something triggers it. (Robert Frost said he
wanted to lodge a few poems where they’d be hard to get rid of.) Of
course much of what we read is consigned to oblivion, or we think it is.
(My composer husband used to enjoy quoting the music theorist Heinrich
Schenker to the effect that a certain amount of bad music has to be
written to exhaust the poison of false theory. Hmmm.) But long before
the internet came along, and even now without its help, fragments fo poems
can rise to the surface, float in from outer space, exactly when we need
them, or because we need them. Lots of reading aloud at an early age,
lots of reading period, certainly facilitates this process; and prose can
float back too. But poetry, especially lyric poetry, is streamlined,
to be remembered even if piecemeal.
“Intertextuality” has always seemed to me to be a needlessly clumsy word
for the way texts talk to each other. Could we extend the concept to
include the way people use texts to help them talk to other people? When
it comes to poetry, allusion is intertextuality’s elegant package. You
receive a gift you needn’t know you needed until it arrives, whereupon (to
quote Frost from “The Figure a Poem Makes,” though there he was referring
to the act of writing a poem), the wonder of unexpected supply keeps
In my next posting I’ll describe three very different pieces of poetry
(well, one is a whole poem) that recently arrived like gifts.