we were to hold criticism and philosophy in abeyance for a while and instead consider the claim made by some poets, including a number with whom you are quite familiar, Mark, that poetry is in itself a way of thinking. At issue then is not primarily what is "theorized" about poetry, but what poetry itself "theorizes." Furthermore, the fact that this kind of thinking takes place within the rigors of form makes it not merely a description of ideas but an enactment of ideas. If nothing else, this practice makes us take poets more seriously as thinkers and makes us read poetry more closely. What we discover, I think, is that poets tell us as much about poetry, as an art and as mode of thinking, as do "theoretically-inflected" (or infected) critics.That's undeniably elegantly put, & with a gun to my head I'd have to agree with it lock, stock, 'n' barrel. But...but... Yes, poetry is indeed a way of thinking – but only sometimes. Without going into the whole history of the conceptual distinction between poetic "knowledge" and other sorts of intellectual activity (Wordworth's "Preface" to Lyrical Ballads, where he proposes poetry's opposite to be not prose but the "language of science," is one foundational document), I think you'd have to agree that in a great deal of poetry, while there may be mental activity of one sort or another going on, often it's a stretch to call it "thinking," much less "theorizing." Indeed, reminded of the roots of theory in "speculation" (or more literally, the "looking at" something), I'd be inclined to think that it's rather the exception for the poem to engage in the sort of self-reflexive mental activity that one could call "theoretical."
But let me play devil's advocate for a moment: What you've just said can be read as a high-horsical defense of poetry – even an old-fashioned defense of poetry – by a poet fed up with the self-aggrandizing claims of theorists and critics: in itself a pretty old genre, no? We have all heard such claims before, and most of them coming (perhaps paradoxically) from poets who themselves wrote criticism and works of prose poetics. Can you give me one concrete example of how a poem, thru the "rigors of form," "enacts" an "idea"? (I think I have a pretty good one myself offhand, but you da man making the claims, so you have to go first!) My point is not that you're in any way wrong or off track, but that such claims about "poetry" and "thinking" are easy to throw around but difficult to demonstrate – tho it's crucial that they be demonstrated, so that the large claims made by some poets – not just claims about poetry and thought, but claims about poetry and political praxis – can be fairly assessed.
I'm inclined to believe, in a rather old-fashioned way, that the theory "done" by poetry and theory "about" poetry are two different things, and serve different purposes. The use-value of a theoretically engaged reading of a poem – its exchange-value is probably nil – has to be something different than whatever theoretical insight one might gain from the poem itself. Different – and not superior to – and by no means displacing the poem itself – but at its best valuable, & not to be lightly dismissed. Susan Howe on Dickinson's "My Life had stood a loaded Gun"; de Man on Shelley's "The Triumph of Life"; Poe's "Philosophy of Composition" on "The Raven" (the latter a case in which a manifestly nugatory poem generates an endlessly suggestive piece of theory).