Pleased to see the deservedly skeptical scrutiny my previous post has gotten so far. In the interest of refinement and clarification, I'll just throw out a couple of counterpoints:
1. Yes, all art that ever veers into the representational involves illusion to some degree, as Kevin points out with his observation on Renaissance uses of perspective. What I'm suggesting is that poetry, which takes a medium (language) whose function is clearly designated as having an "ordinary," "proper" application (referential communication), and gives it a "secondary," "deviant" application (one of plastic expressivity above and beyond semantic content, by virtue of its sonic, visual, and/or tangentially associative properties), is especially dubious in that it cannot even be evaluated, as can illusionist painting for example, on the basis of its adherence to a "realistic" model. It makes up its own faux rules as it goes along, encouraging its readers/listeners to accept the outcome of the game played by those rules as "fair." Well, so does dance, you may say. Yes, but the dancer does not (except perhaps in very particular cases, or by a concerted stretch of the imagination) appear on some level to be merely walking or running down the street attending to daily business. The poet seems to be talking to you, and may in fact at times be conveying actual bits of informational data of varying value in the process. It is easy to forget what poetry is, and to start to concentrate solely on what passes for the poet's "message," as opposed to the unique conditions of its presentation via sound, text, performative context, etc. Any illusionist aspects of poetry are merely discrete instances peculiar to a given rhetorical or formal strategy, like e. e. cummings' falling leaf made of words, or Milton's fallen angel Mulciber tumbling syntactically down several strophes of pentameter in Book 1 of Paradise Lost. In other words, the parts of poetry that act most like they are intended to deceive us are not deceptive at all. We see them exactly for what they are: clever devices, moving flourishes. What is deceptive is the premise (not necessarily intended by the poet, but always latently implied) that poetry can have any consistent, coherent standards by which it may be evaluated as "legitimate" or "proper." In fact, it depends on the absence of any such standards for its evolutionary survival. It depends always on the possibility of new forms it can take so as not only to inspire renewed delight, but to awaken doubt, even hostile suspicion. When it does not do this--when it believes in its own respectability, and conforms to notions of propriety borrowed from past eras--it fails to attain the level of questionability that would qualify it for the sort of "criminality" I'm imagining. It becomes merely quaint, or pathetic. It is still on the margins of polite society, but in the manner of an abject beggar, not a stealthy safecracker or confidence man.
2. It may be the case that by framing things in this way, I am "romanticizing" the poet. But part of what I'm saying is that poetry is always, by definition almost, romanticized and romanticizing. That's part of the con game--to convince the reader/listener that the poet has a special sensitivity to life or ideology at large or whatever that cannot be defined in purely rational terms. This is true whether the poet writes gushing love sonnets or complex procedural deconstructions of government memo-speak. Highly cerebral gambits that reject the notion of individual "genius" are themselves bids for genius. Humble plain speech that rejects high intellectual artifice is often only a cloaking of such artifice, like an aristocrat in beggar's garb. I'm not trying to reinforce the myth of the poet as a mysterious outlaw figure, a divinely inspired renegade who talks to spirits and therefore transcends society's narrow moral and political constraints; that myth doesn't need reinforcing, because it underlies the very concept on which poetry is based in the first place. If anything, I'm "exposing" that romantic pretext (as if it needed exposing).
Note: I started composing this before I saw Anne's comments on my last post, and I notice that we cover some of the same territory.