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Saturated with the Stevensian Echo: Dean Rader’s Appreciation of Wallace Stevens
To this day, I don’t think I’ve had an experience quite like reading that poem. It was similar to the first time I saw Raising Arizona—I just didn’t quite know what I was seeing. Drama? Farce? Something else? I was utterly confused but even more intrigued. I couldn’t stop reading, and I recognized instantly a virtuoso performance.
Reading Stevens is unlike any other project, and yet, it is a project so many of us take on. As the 2009 anthology of Stevens-inspired poems, Visiting Wallace, suggests, Stevens’s presence is thoroughly present in contemporary poetry. According to the preface, “no other poet has been more influential upon American poets during the past 30 years. . . .in the recent Poet’s Bookshelf anthologies more poets cited work by Wallace Stevens for shaping their poetic art than work by any other writer.” In my mind, and I think in the mind of most contemporary poets, it is Stevens who has established the lyric aesthetic for this century and the last. To interact with him, to co-Stevens as I like to call it, is to pledge a commitment to the lyric and all of its glorious ambiguities. We admire Eliot and Williams and Pound and Crane but contemporary poets wrestle with them less. It’s easy to mimic Williams or to jettison Pound, but Stevens is more complex. Despite the perceived abstraction of his poetry and the ongoing disagreements among his scholars, contemporary American poetry is saturated with the Stevensian echo. Even in the work of people as diverse as Rachel Loden, Adrienne Rich, Charles Wright, Susan Howe, or Terrance Hayes (see his fantastic “Snow for Wallace Stevens”), you hear Stevens’s voice.
Take the jump. His close reading of the poem is worth it.