allusions in poetry

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Allusions R Us

I’ve noticed, reading published poetry, that it doesn’t hurt to use allusions, whether subtle or direct. If you have a keen literary interest in a famous writer, artist, philosopher, or historical figure, etc., allude away! Use quotes. Use interesting facts. Just use them Yoda-like, blending them into your poem’s purpose and its art until you have an allusion smoothie.

Here’s an example from a poet who is not known for his subtlety, Charles Bukowski. But then, I’ve always suspected Bukowski’s rebel act was just that and only partly true. He did, in fact, take his writing quite seriously. You can’t have that much of an output while constantly drinking and lazing around, after all!

Here Bukowski is alluding to the greatest American poet of all time, Walt Whitman. OK. Maybe not the greatest poet in everyone’s minds, but certainly the bearded poster boy for American poetry.


a song with no end
Charles Bukowski

when Whitman wrote, “I sing the body electric”

I know what he
I know what he

to be completely alive every moment
in spite of the inevitable.

we can’t cheat death but we can make it
work so hard
that when it does take

it will have known a victory just as
perfect as


A twofer! Allusion and the universal preoccupation of poets everywhere, death! You might even make it a threefer if you deem it aphoristic, as in a wise man’s teaching, to boot.

Really. Charles Bukowski as prophet and sage. And all because of a stiff drink of Whitman-infused allusion.