One of Wallace Stevens's many masterpieces, "The Man on the Dump," may reveal something of what it is that great poets do, or can do.
They forage, scavenge on every debris/each drop of detritus and forge it charge it reborn—
Part of that garbage, that scum of scrap they use is us—
we lesser poets.
Great poets can take other poets' failures and transform them into successes.
A great poet like James Tate can take the failed verse of dub poets and transform them into his masterful poems.
This is hyperbole perhaps, but there might be some truth to it.
This capability may be one of the many that separate great poets like Tate from flub poets like me.
Because, I think, and this is the thought that woke me up in distraction this morning,
the sad meager truth is that I can use nothing from other poets' failures. I do not have that capability—
No: I can only take other poets' successes and turn them into my failures.
The successful poet is the Man on the Dump,
the failed poet is the one lounging around in the King's Treasury.
Like all lesser poets I am doomed to waste my life taking the successful works of great poets and transforming them into my failed poems.
In fact I the lesser poet may have no source material, no resource but them, their verse.
I have nothing else to work with but their accomplishments.
Whereas they, the great poets, have for their wield not only the heap achievement of their fellow greats, but
(and this is the crucial difference between them and us)
they can also utilize the wasteproduct trash efforts of all us failed poets.
(Could it be a formulaic fate's-cross exchange: we failed poets have nothing to work with but the triumph-tomes of successful poets, while they, the great ones, have nothing to work with but our ruined rhymes—? No, too neat.)
Everything's piled on their scarred and stained workbench.
But on our escritoires only the heavy volumes of the Majors are lined up
and held up precariously
by the trembling bookends of our arms, our forearms—
which leaves our hands, our hands flapping around quite useless.