Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 55 (Wallace Stevens)

Collected Poetry & Prose
Stevens, Wallace
Collected Poetry & Prose

Purchased at the Niagara Falls Outlet Mall Discount Book Store for $9.99. I can never remember the actual name of the Outlet Mall or the Book Store, so I identify them by generic titles. I believe the mall is called "Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls." I am not sure about the book store. I think it may have been called "Books, Etc." I am pretty sure the Outlet Mall had a different name before, something like "Niagara Falls Prime Outlets." Whatever. It's just a mall. The book store is no longer there.

I was very happy to replace the three volumes of Wallace Stevens I owned in paperback with this slim, handsome omnibus. I owned paperback copies of A Palm at the End of the Mind and The Necessary Angel, both of which I purchased for a graduate course in modernist poetry I took as an undergraduate at Fordham. I also owned a paperback copy of The Collected Poems, purchased for a course with Susan Howe in graduate school. I traded them in at Rust Belt Books.

I have an interesting relationship with Wallace Stevens. I taught myself a lot of what I know about poetry by reading his work. In my little cubicle at Hyperion Books, where I worked as a temp for about six months in 1996, I used to try to figure out what he was doing in his poems.

For instance, I would take a poem like "The Comedian as the Letter C" and break it apart, making lists of all the words in a particular stanza, organized by sound. I'd make lists of words that all began with the same letter. I'd make lists of words that had similar vowel sounds. I'd cross reference lists to see the relationships between vowel and consonant sounds, between internal rhymes and end rhymes, etc.

After that, I pretty much stopped reading Wallace Stevens.

I enjoy some of his poetry, but much of it I find abstruse and even when I work at it I have found little joy at the end of my hard work. I prefer "Man With A Blue Guitar" to, say, "An Ordinary Evening in New Haven" or "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction." Maybe I'll have a middle-age Stevens discovery like I did with Schuyler.

The irony is that even when I write poems that look more like, say, Creeley's, on the page, people tell me they remind them of Wallace Stevens. There's no telling the things that actually influence you, I guess.

Anecdote of the Jar

I placed a jar in Tennessee, 
And round it was, upon a hill. 
It made the slovenly wilderness 
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it, 
And sprawled around, no longer wild. 
The jar was round upon the ground 
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion every where. 
The jar was gray and bare. 
It did not give of bird or bush, 
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

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