According to Wallace Stevens, “Every poem is a poem within a poem: the poem of the idea within the poem of the words.” We often put “the idea” in a brief phrase: “the evils of war.” We rarely talk about the poetry of the idea. By itself, the theme, the idea, is always banal: it has to be recreated by the poet’s imagination into something animated. (And since the poet at hand is male, I’ll call him “he” in what follows.) And then, how is he to arouse a glow of personal vividness within the language, and create “the poem of the words”?  Suppose the poet wants the “idea” of his poem to be “the disparity of cultures.” What might “the poem of the idea” be? This particular poet’s imaginative move is to locate his two cultures in cosmic space, on two different planets, one of which is Planet Earth. And how will the words be made into “the poem of the words?” An answer occurs to him. What if a visitor from outer space had studied English, but could not escape mistakes in using it for the first time? At this initial stage, there remains a great deal to be done, since both the poem of the idea and the poem of the words are still sketchy and unfulfilled. But at least the poet now has the two poetries to work with. And the poet, Robert Hayden, an Afro-Amer-ican (his preferred term), is convinced that a poem written by a minority poet has to be as strong in the poetry of its words as in the poetry of its idea. In “Counterpoise,” a group-mani-festo that Hayden published in 1948, he declared emphatically, “As writers who belong to a so-called minority we are violently opposed to having our work viewed,

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