This essay argues for the distinctive role of allusion in queer poetry of the pre-Stonewall era, using the work of Oscar Wilde, A. E. Housman, and Countee Cullen as case studies. Most allusions depend on implicit verbal echoes that can be identified by readers able and willing to recognize them. That mix of secrecy and openness was especially attractive to gay poets, since it enabled them to express their desires obliquely by writing through authors who hinted at similar experiences. Queer allusion thus offers an alternative to long-standing theories of influence that describe poetry’s relationship to the past in terms of debt or competition. Unlike these models, queer allusion allowed poets to foster connections on the page and find relief from the loneliness that was endemic to gay life.

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