Commentaries - April 2011

What the Europeans like about Wallace Stevens; or, Stevens 'in' Europe?

Give me in any day.

A few years ago I read a collection of essays given the title Wallace Stevens across the Atlantic, edited by Bart Eeckhout and Edward Ragg, published by Palgrave Macmillan. The many pleasures I derived from this book do not always have to do with its topic, which seems capacious but is in fact fairly well and even narrowly defined: Wallace Stevens in Europe.

The connection is rich but in several ways it’s a not-so-supreme fiction, since of course Stevens never visited Europe, never went further abroad than Cuba. Once Europe must be identified as the Europe of Stevens’ imagination, anything goes. To be sure, I’m mostly glad of this. My favorite passages generally explore the terra incognita of the subject. Frank Kermode claims, doubtless a fact, that it was he who introduced Stevens to the Swiss. George Lensing elegantly rehearses the old but nonetheless accurate generalization that Stevens “survived on postcards,” and offers a brief but good reading of “A Dish of Peaches in Russia,” an under-read poem. Robert Rehder describes “mastery of the syntax of doubt” in “Description without Place,” making one doubt the relevance of “Place” beyond the many name-dropped references in that end-of-war poem, such that “without” (does it indicate dislocation or evacuation?) becomes the key term. J. Hillis Miller gives, along the way, a personal recollection of Stevens’s important reading at Harvard in 1950, and, as a bonus, a quite moving evocation of the “Danes in Denmark” passage testifying to Stevens’s unironic sense of the power of the indigene truly living the local life (“And knew each other well”).

Yet as we read this book about Stevens’s Europe, Stevens in Europe, the Europeans’ Stevens, we must remember that the “Danes in Denmark” notion was never about Denmark, nor even about Europe at large. It’s about fully occupying any place but one’s own place, and Europe is a site chosen by way of analogy rather than a cultural or geographic context. Miller, for instance, is right to wonder why Stevens landed on Denmark to make this fabulous place-unspecific point about place.

The art and practice of the ordinary

from "Attack of the Difficult Poems" [published in Poetry Daily]

The ordinary is always elusive—"near is / and difficult to grasp"—even as it is the most present actuality. And my sense, when talking about the ordinary, is always how extraordinary it is. Paradoxically, any attempt to fix the ordinary pulls it out of the everydayness in which it is situated, from which it seems to derive its power.    . . .

read more at Poetry Daily

Creeley near the end

A beautiful late reading given by Robert Creeley, CUE Art Foundation, January 18, 2005. We at PennSound provide the video and also the audio-only recording of this event.

"When I think of where I come from....of what a life is, or was...," begins the first poem in the reading. Creeley died in March of '05, just a few months later.

Poetry on the web! It's a revolution!

Reading it now, the article seems a yawn - obvious, innocuous. Was it only eight years ago that the availability of poetry on the web was deemed innovative? (My own poetry site was created in '94. It's a grandpa.) Zoe Ingalls wrote a piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education on the Electronic Poetry Center, with glancing looks at the digital poetry archives of the Writers House (including webcasts) and my online poetry course materials at Penn, and several other repositories of the time. I found a copy of this article yesterday while rooting through old files, and am pleased to make it available here.

Language-oriented poetry in Myanmar

by Zeyar Lynn

To many people outside Myanmar (Burma), it might come as a surprise that there is such a thing as Language-oriented Poetry in contemporary Myanmar poetry scene. As I happen to be the person responsible (‘the instigator’ / ‘the culprit’) of so-called Language-oriented Poetry in Myanmar, I feel that I should have my say on how this has come about in Myanmar, a country that has been under a military regime for the past 20 years or so.