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Quasi-unintelligibility (Coda) May 3, 2013: “I have the greatest dislike for explanations,” an emphatic Stevens once wrote to Ronald Lane Latimer, the pseudonymous editor of Alcestis Press, a small and short-lived leftist publishing outfit in New York City back in the 1930s. “As soon as people are perfectly sure of a poem they are just as likely as not to have no further interest in [...] by

Quasi-unintelligibility (Part 5) April 30, 2013: To repeat: Stevens’s “Man Carrying Thing” kicks off with a clear-cut statement about what a poem “must” do, i.e., “resist the intelligence / Almost successfully.” But the statement itself, which is part of a poem, presents no resistance to the intelligence at all—its meaning is “obvious,” to recycle a word from the poem’s [...] by

Quasi-unintelligibility (Part 4) April 25, 2013: Less than a decade after Stevens’s “Man Carrying Thing” first appeared in Yale Review, its first sentence had become so useful and succinct an apology for his more challenging work, it would even show up in his New York Times obituary, which ran on August 3, 1955, the day after he died of stomach cancer in Hartford’s St. Francis [...] by

Quasi-unintelligibilty (Part 3) April 19, 2013: After having wandered somewhat far from the discussion of quasi-unintelligibility in my last post I thought it might be a good idea to revisit the topic before moving forward. I had set out last week to enumerate as straightforwardly as possible some of the elements of Stevens’s “Man Carrying Thing” that appealed to me on rereading it for [...] by

Quasi-unintelligibility (Part 2) April 11, 2013: I mentioned in my previous post that I would consider more closely Wallace Stevens’s “Man Carrying Thing” in my next post, and that means now. You can read the poem here. Let me tell you what I like about it. (1) I like the poem’s first sentence and how it’s lineated: “The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost [...] by

Quasi-unintelligibility (Part 1) April 10, 2013: Seven years ago this month Helen Vendler published one of my favorite of her books, Poets Thinking. In particular I love its chapter on Alexander Pope, which starts off by recounting the frustration and dismay Vendler experienced while taking part in a symposium of academics brought together at Harvard in the early 80s to discuss Pope’s long [...] by