Since my previous post closed on a reference, a Sylvia-Plath-laying-her-head-inside-an-oven reference, to be exact, I thought I might pick up where that thought left off—consider these:

Fourscore and…,” “You had me at…,” “Life is like a box of…,” “Silly Rabbit, Trix are for…”

(please tell me you can complete these because) either my memory is slipping or I’m making the point that there are few things sweeter than two people meeting at the street lamp of a familiar reference.  (Yes, few things.)

Adam Kirsch, senior editor of the New Republic, recently published an article which briefly discusses “Literary Allusion in the Age of Google.” In the article, Kirsch remarks on the remarkable intimacy created “when two people—a captor and a prisoner, or a couple of friends or (most often) a writer and a reader—can share an allusion.” He ultimately concludes that in our present day, the rise of such entities as Google actually work to close any distance an allusion (regardless of how obscure or familiar) might present between writer and reader. (Just think, you no longer have to master Latin or Greek to trace the genealogy of some poem’s allusion to its late father, or mother.)

But Kirsch also raises valid concerns. Exactly how safe is the writer who makes a classical allusion anymore, and if so, how far into history’s backseat is the writer allowed to reach? Does he risk a reader’s lack of understanding or connection to said poem? And furthermore, has the technological age in which we live limited the scope of our allusions? Narrowed our frames of reference? Billy Collins, in his poem “The Trouble with Poetry” ruminates on when “the day finally arrives / when we have compared everything in the world / to everything else in the world, // and there is nothing left to do / but quietly close our notebooks / and sit with our hands folded on our desks.” Do you ever wonder, in an age overrun with iPhone apps, Droids, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, what have we left to talk about?

(Here’s where the ecstatic infomercial host frantically flails his arms in front of the television camera, “But there’s still hope!”) To answer my own question: people. Us.

Despite technological advancements, and despite the manner in which language continues being truncated and compressed (“OMG, How r u?” —actual message, I’m sad to say), poets are constantly discovering innovative methods of exploring our most classic themes of love and loss, of investigating the human condition by placing the best words in the best order (even in the most modern of situations). Yes, new verbs like “friend,” “tweet” and “google” are being introduced into not only the English lexicon, but into Contemporary American Poems themselves. And yes, social networking has redefined the manner in which some choose to construct a poem. And sure, we’re further challenging the limits to which we can compress language through the entrance of such literary journals like Cell Poems, through which you can even have issues beamed directly to your cell phone. (Talk about convenience, right?)  But aren’t we still talking about the same thing?  Aren’t we still speaking the same language?

I’d like to believe so.  As much as we may have seemed to changed, I’d like to believe we ultimately haven’t, that we’re still concerned about the same dilemmas, encountering similar experiences. In one of my favorite episodes of Seinfeld, during a business transaction (to make a long story short) between Kramer and Earl Hafler over Cuban immigrants, a discrepancy arises as to whether the two men are referring to the cigars or individuals. The bit closes as Hafler asks, “We’re talking about people, right?” I think so. I think we still are.

Advertisements