Wallace Stevens

It's like a new reality, man (PoemTalk #14)

Wallace Stevens, 'Not Ideas about the Thing but the Thing Itself'

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PoemTalk listeners will want to stick around for the end of this show in particular, when Nada Gordon, a first-time PoemTalker, recites her flarfistic rewriting of Wallace Stevens’ late poem, “Not Ideas about the Thing but the Thing Itself.” Meantime, of course, we give the poem a good going-through. The talkers this time, beside Nada, are Lawrence Joseph and Charles Bernstein, and we were (for the first time in PoemTalk’s short history) on the road, at Studio 92 on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Anyone who deals with this poem has to understand the rhetorical gist of Stevens's “like”: the cry he thinks he hears seemed “like” a sound in his mind; it was “like” a new knowledge of reality. Charles half-jokes that it’s anachronistically (and uncharacteristically) a 1960s like: a cool “very,” an intensifer, a pause. Al tries to stipulate that this is a Keats-at-the-casement poem: he’s inside, looking out and hearing minimal late-winter birdsong. But Larry believes firmly in the radical open-ness of this poem: we are neither inside nor out. There is no conventional place of standing. “Three times in the poem,” Nada has written elsewhere, “he says the sound was coming ‘from outside.’ But I don’t believe him. How can I believe this from a poet whose ‘actual candle blazed with artifice’?”

This was certainly the threesome, too, to say interesting things about the alphabetical “c” that precedes the choir.

Our recording comes from the wonderful collection of recordings at the Woodberry Poetry Room at Harvard, and we wish to thank Don Share, Christina Davis, Peter Steinberg, and others who have taken such good care of that material. Stevens traveled to Harvard to record this poem on October 8, 1954 (he died in 1955).

the revolutionist stops for orangeade

photo credit: Lawrence Schwartzwald/Splashnews
Yes, here's Patti Smith reading the recent Cambridge Companion to Wallace Stevens. The photograph was taken by Lawrence Schwartzwald, who just happened to see this and marvel at the apt juxtaposition.

modernism from right to left

Below is an excerpt from a review Michael Coyle (author of Ezra Pound, Popular Genres, and the Discourse of Culture) wrote several years ago about my book Modernism from Right to Left.

Wallace Stevens's primitive fantasies

In 1986 Beverly Coyle and I co-edited the complete correspondence of Wallace Stevens and the Cuban editor-poet-impresario, Jose Rodriguez Feo - published by Duke.

Finding Stevens along dream streets

Melanie Almeder's poems

Melanie Almeder has a new book of poems out, On Dream Street. "La Pluie," a poem written "after Marc Chagall," is in the Wallace Stevens idiom: "The only green thing: the tree at the center, / bent by the pull of wind in the frail sails of its blossoms." I'd say Almeder is not a Stevensian poet overall: she believes in natural description and doesn't dwell on abstractions as lovely in themselves. But she's got the Stevens phrasing here and there and it's personally gratifying to me that she does. Why? Because I taught her, not at Penn as a member of the faculty--but at Virginia when I was there teaching as a doctoral student. Melanie was even then--as a freshman--a fine writer and a great student. And I recall that in class (although it was supposed to be a composition class of sorts) I read aloud from Stevens' poetry semi-obsessively. The book is published by Tupelo.

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