Oxford English Dictionary
7a. The mental connection between an object and ideas that have some relation to it (e.g. of similarity, contrariety, contiguity, causation). phr. association of ideas.
b. Psychol. laws of association . . . ; mediate association, association by unconscious or unnoticed intermediaries; simultaneous, successive association , forms of association of ideas in which the process of connection is simultaneous or falls into two stages. Also attrib., as association philosophy, association psychology, association test, association theory, association time
8. An idea or recollection linked in the mind or memory with some object of contemplation, and recalled to the mind in connection with it.
Psychol. The mental process of making associations which the reason does not order, repress, or control; an association of this type. Hence: a technique used in psychology that seeks to analyse such associations, in order to gain insight into subconscious processes.
Fidel Fajardo-Acosta, "Understanding Literature"
Given its tendency to speak about its subject indirectly, the essential mode of communication of literature may be said to be a symbolic one. A symbol may be defined in general terms as a signifier of a complex nature which always places its most important referent outside of itself. For the purposes of conveying meaning, literary texts make use of a variety of special signifying devices—known in general as figures or tropes—such as symbols, allegories, metaphors, metonymies, similes, paradoxes, ironies, etc.
Although each literary device has a name and a definition, it is not so important to know what they are called so much as to understand that, in general, symbolic figures make indirect references and create semi-invisible chains of association between different sets of images, concepts, and ideas. The associative logic that governs the behavior of those chains of meaning, however, is not always fixed or consistent and often varies widely from text to text and even within a single text. A sensitive and alert reading of a particular text is therefore of paramount importance in discovering the internally-defined logic of association relevant to that text and its parts.
A comparable term, especially contrasted with denotation, is connotation.
denotation 3. a term employed to denote or describe a thing; a designation 4. The meaning or signification of a term 5 Logic. That which a word denotes, as distinguished from its connotation
connotation 1.a.The signifying in addition; inclusion of something in the meaning of a word besides what it primarily denotes; implication. b. That which is implied in a word in addition to its essential or primary meaning 2c. In non-technical use: The sum of what a word implies or means . . .
Oxford English Dictionary
For purposes of reading and writing poetry . . . .
Poetry challenges your normally prosaic ways of thinking, touches you deeply, lifts you high, knocks you around, pulls you close and pushes you out.
A way of thinking or speaking that appears deeper or more meaningful than normal speech, but logic or reason cannot altogether account for.
The language of dreams, the language of children, the gift of the gods . . . .Regard your unconscious or subconscious mind as your muse. Listen to the words that suggest themselves, the words that, if you listen, you hear coming next. Let the god or goddess speak through your mind.
Then use conscious reasoning. Much of what the unconscious says is childish chatter. Re-think the words you hear and turn them to something better while keeping what you can of their original sound and rhythm.
Poetry at its best encompasses rational meaning but deepens it with sensory sounds and images plus meanings that extend beyond our conscious reckoning.
What does your unconscious say? What does it know that consciousness cannot?
Inspiration as unconscious, but conscious makes it make sense by revising
When talking about poetry, hard to stay on point—so much is going on, that free association feels like the only true response. If you talk too much sense, you may violate the spirit of poetry.
So on first introducing poem, open discussion to anything, then return to poem for rational evidence.