Posts Tagged ‘Wallace Stevens’

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Free Poetry Culture: Academic Edition

posted: 3.15.10 by archived

The Internet has exponentially expanded the lifetime learning opportunities for the educationally curious. Between podcasts, blogs, vlogs, online magazines and newspapers, even the most ravenous consumer of free culture would be overwhelmed.

Perhaps the most interesting development in free online culture is the advent of course materials—from lecture notes to full videos of lectures—from classes at top universities. Much of this material is collected online at the Open Courseware Consortium, where those eager for some mental exercise can check out the offerings from universities like MIT, Berkeley, Notre Dame, and Michigan.

Maybe the most interesting for readers of Teaching Poetry is Yale Open Courses which features no less than three full courses—these are real Yale courses, every lecture available for home viewing—devoted to poetry. Langdon Hammer’s course “Modern Poetry” is a nice way to get up to speed on poetry in the English world since 1900. It covers all of the greats: Frost, Yeats, Eliot, Crane, Hughes, Williams, Moore, Stevens, Auden, and Bishop.

Those interested in going in the other direction won’t be disappointed either. The English Department features an overview course on Milton taught by John Rogers. And Italian Language and Literature features “Dante in Translation” with Giuseppe Mazzotta, which covers the Divine Comedy.

In a different vein, anyone inclined to apply systematic analysis of poetry or literature of any kind, has a treat in store with Paul Fry’s course “Introduction to the Theory of Literature.” Fry’s course is a clear, comprehensive introduction to literary theory which runs the gamut of twentieth century thought from Russian formalism to neo-pragmatism. The course is mostly taught from Bedford’s own The Critical Tradition and is great for anyone interested in figuring out what academics are doing when they use incomprehensible language.

Happy learning!

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Andrew Flynn is an editorial assistant at Bedford/St. Martin’s. He graduated from Columbia in 2008, with a BA in history and philosophy. Before coming to Bedford he interned at the Paris Review.

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Categories: Joelle Hann (moderator), Literature
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Wallace Stevens, Poet of the Month

posted: 10.5.09 by archived

Wallace Stevens was born on October 2, 1879—130 years ago—and led what seemed, on the surface, a rather ordinary life.

Educated at Harvard, he became a lawyer and spent his life practicing law, eventually becoming vice president of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Co.  While leading the daily life of a lawyer, Stevens produced some of the most important American poetry written in the twentieth century—composing lines in his head while walking to work in the morning and writing them down at night. Like composer Charles Ives, Wallace Stevens happily joined work and art, turning down a professorship at Harvard to remain at his firm. Widespread recognition came late, just a year before Stevens’s death in 1955, when his Collected Poems was published.

The Poetry Foundation’s biography summarizes Stevens’s talents: “an extraordinary vocabulary, a flair for memorable phrasing, an accomplished sense of imagery, and the ability to both lampoon and philosophize.” Stevens is frequently regarded as a difficult poet—his poems are opaque and philosophical, his images whimsical, his language complex—but the visceral power of his words is on display in his recordings of his poems, like this one of “To the One of Fictive Music” (with some creative animation):

(See also recordings of Stevens’s poems here and here, as well as these two clips from a documentary.)

Though appreciation of Stevens’s poetry was a long time coming, it is now near universal. Stevens’s Selected Poems, recently published by Knopf, has garnered a lot of attention and occasioned reassertions of Stevens’s place in the pantheon of modern poetry.  “[W]hen we hear the sound of Stevens in poems by subsequent poets,” James Longenbach writes in The Nation, “it is most often the music of austerity, at once worldly and otherworldly, that we hear.”

Reviewing the book in the Times, Helen Vendler makes the case for Stevens as the poet of our age:

Stevens’s conscience made him confront the chief issues of his era: the waning of religion, the indifferent nature of the  physical universe, the theories of Marxism and socialist realism, the effects of the Depression, the uncertainties of    philosophical knowledge, and the possibility of a profound American culture, present and future. Others treated those issues, but very few of them possessed Stevens’s intuitive sense of both the intimate and the sublime, articulated in verse of unprecedented invention, phrased in a marked style we now call “Stevensian” (as we would say “Keatsian” or “Yeatsian”). In the end, he arrived at a firm sense of a universe dignified by human endeavor but surrounded always—as in the magnificent sequence “The Auroras of Autumn”—by the “innocent” creations and destructions within the universe of which he is part.

Happy 130th, Wallace Stevens!

Activity

1. As noted above, Stevens was unique in his ability write great poems while achieving success in the legal world. Why is this so rare? Are poets opposed to work? Consider some poems that deal with the mundane world of work—perhaps “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” by Gray or “The Unknown Citizen” by Auden—and discuss how the poets conceive of this work as related to their craft.

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Andrew Flynn is an editorial assistant at Bedford/St. Martin’s. He graduated from Columbia in 2008, with a BA in history and philosophy. Before coming to Bedford he interned at the Paris Review.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Creative Writing, Joelle Hann (moderator), Literature
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