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Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)

A selective list of online literary criticism for the American modernist poet Wallace Stevens, favoring signed articles by recognized scholars and articles published in peer-reviewed sources

introduction & biography

"Wallace Stevens." Interpretations of Stevens' poems by leading critics (excerpts). Modern American Poetry, Univ. of Illinois. Eds. Edward Brunner, John Timberman Newcomb, and Cary Nelson.

Hammer, Langdon. "Lecture 19: Wallace Stevens." In the first of three lectures on Stevens, "Wallace Stevens is considered as an unapologetically Romantic poet of imagination. His search for meaning in a universe without religion in 'Sunday Morning' is likened to Crane's energetic quest for meaning and symbol. In 'The Poems of Our Climate,' Stevens's desire to reduce poetry to essential terms, and then his countering resistance to this impulse, are explored. Finally, 'The Man on the Dump' is considered as a typically Stevensian search for truth in specifically linguistic terms" [3 lectures]. Audio, video, and transcript from Professor Hammer's class at Yale, ENGL 310: Modern Poetry, Spring, 2007.

Vendler, Helen. "The Plain Sense of Things." Professor Vendler remarks on Wallace Stevens unhappy marriage as part of her review of Poems By Wallace Stevens, edited by John N. Serio (Knopf, 2009). NY Times 19 Aug. 2009.

"Read These on Your Death Bed: Helen Vendler on last poems by Stevens and Merrill" [and James Merrill]. Audio, lecture by Professor Vendler. Poetry Foundation.

"Wallace Stevens." A brief introduction to Wallace Stevens, includes text of 19 of his most famous poems and two audio files--"Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock" read by another poet, and "The Idea of Order at Key West" read by Stevens himself, his own pauses sometimes working against the line breaks. Academy of American Poets.

"To Reinvent Invention: John Hollander on Wallace Stevens." Academy of American Poets.

"Wallace Stevens." An introduction to Wallace Stevens from educational publisher Pearson/Longman.

Serio, John N. "Excerpt: 'Selected Poems.'" An introduction to Wallace Stevens by an influential critic and editor of Stevens. National Public Radio 3 Dec. 2009.

"The Enigma of Wallace Stevens." A brief biography of Stevens, discusses his long residence in Hartford, Conn., and his grave at Cedar Hill Cemetery. By Christine Palm, president of the Hartford Friends and Enemies of Wallace Stevens. Connecticut Explored.

"The Ten Best American Poems." Poet and professor Jay Parini chooses Stevens' "The Idea of Order at Key West" as the second greatest American poem (after Whitman's "Song of Myself"). The Guardian 11 March 2011.

"Where poetry lighted." Newspaper article about the "Wallace Stevens Walk," a self-guided tour of the path in Hartford, Conn., that Wallace Stevens took on his long walk to work from his house, at 118 Westerly Terrace, to his job as vice president of the Hartford Insurance company (he never learned to drive), composing poems along the way. Boston Globe 21 Dec. 2008.

"Wallace Stevens." Modernist Portraits, American Passages: A Literary Survey. Ed. Laura Arnold. A site for teachers, a collaboration between the Public Broadcasting Service and W.W. Norton.

Wagner-Martin, Linda W."Classroom Issues and Strategies." Suggestions for teaching Stevens' poetry, Stevens' themes and style. From educational publisher Heath.

Jenkins, Lee M. "Wallace Stevens." An introduction to Stevens, from a database that provides signed literary criticism by experts in their field, and is available to individuals for a reasonably-priced subscription. Literary Encyclopedia. 9 Dec. 2004. Eds. Robert Clark, Emory Elliott, Janet Todd [subscription service].

literary criticism: "The Snow Man"

"The Snow Man." Interpretations of Stevens' "The Snow Man" by leading critics (excerpts). Modern American Poetry, Univ. of Illinois. Eds. Edward Brunner, John Timberman Newcomb, and Cary Nelson.

"Wallace Stevens: The Snow Man." Commentator Jay Keyser claims that Stevens' "The Snow Man" is the best short poem in the English language. National Public Radio 29 Nov. 2005.

Keyser, Samuel Jay. "Wallace Stevens: Form and Meaning in Four Poems." Very close readings of "The Death of a Soldier," "Poetry Is a Destructive Force," "Anecdote of a Jar," and "The Snow Man." College English 37, 6 (1976) pp 578-98 [free at jstor, click "Preview" or "Read Online"].

literary criticism

Altieri, Charles. "Why "Angel Surrounded by Paysans" Concludes The Auroras of Autumn," and "Stevens and the Crisis of European Philosophy," and "The Idea of Feeling in Wallace Stevens' Poetry," and "Intentionality as Sensuality in Harmonium." Professor Altieri's web site.

Ausubel, Jonathan. "'This Hot, Dependent Orator': Shifting Narrative Stance and the Collision of Speaker and Reader in 'Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction.'" Twentieth Century Literature 42, 3 (1996) [questia subscription service].

Bates, Milton J. "Selecting One's Parents: Wallace Stevens and Some Early Influences." Journal of Modern Literature 9, 2 (May 1982) pp 183-208 [free at jstor, click "Preview" or "Read Online"].

Bromwich, David. "The Multi-Faceted Blackbird and Wallace Stevens' Poetic Vision." College English 25, 6 (1964) pp 446-448 [free at jstor, click "Preview" or "Read Online"].

Conte, Joseph. "The Smooth and the Striated: Compositional Texture in the Modern Long Poem." Says Conte, "The 'smooth texts' among twentieth-century long poems might include Wallace Stevens' 'Auroras of Autumn,' James Schuyler's 'The Morning of the Poem,' John Ashbery's 'Flow Chart,' A. R. Ammons's 'Garbage,' Clark Coolidge's 'The Crystal Text,' and David Antin's 'Tuning' . . . The 'striated texts' among the twentieth-century long poems might include Pound's 'The Cantos,' Charles Olson's 'The Maximus Poems,' Robert Duncan's 'Passages' series, Lyn Hejinian's 'My Life,' Ronald Johnson's 'Ark,' and John Cage's 'Themes and Variations.'" Modern Language Studies 27 (1997).

Doggett, Frank. "Wallace Stevens' Later Poetry." ELH 25, 2 (June 1958) pp 137-54 [free at jstor, click "Preview" or "Read Online"].

Doreski, C.K. "Proustian closure in Wallace Stevens' 'The Rock' and Elizabeth Bishop's Geography III." Writes Doreski, "shaped by awareness of impending death, Wallace Stevens' final gathering of poems, published in his 1954 Collected Poems as 'The Rock,' and Elizabeth Bishop's last original collection, published in 1976 as Geography III, enact the cycle of relinquishment familiar to readers of T. S. Eliot's 'Little Gidding.'" Twentieth Century Literature 44, 1 (1998) [questia subscription service].

Doreski, William. "Wallace Stevens in Connecticut." Twentieth Century Literature (1993) [questia subscription service].

Dougherty, Adelyn. "Structures of Sound in Wallace Stevens' 'Farewell to Florida.'" Texas Studies in Literature and Language 16, 4 (1975) pp 755-64 [jstor, first page only].

Filreis, Alan. "Wallace Stevens and the Crisis of Authority." American Literature 56, 4 (Dec. 1984) pp 560-78 [jstor preview or purchase].

Foust, Graham. "Wallace Stevens' Manuscript As If in The Dump." Foust notes Stevens' habit of carrying around bits of paper with poems jotted on them: "These 'little slips of paper,' as Stevens himself calls them, these scraps of value, resemble nothing if not dollar bills; a dollar, like a Wallace Stevens poem, is a thing and a measurement, an object and an abstraction." Jacket 14 (2001).

Kertzer, Jon. "The Course of a Particular: On the Ethics of Literary Singularity." Twentieth Century Literature 50, 3 (2004) pp 207-38 [free at jstor, click "Preview" or "Read Online"].

McNamara, Peter L. "The Way to 'Sunday Morning.'" Poetry 132, 3 (June 1978) pp 166-70 [free at jstor, click "Preview" or "Read Online"].

Sukenick, Ronald. Wallace Stevens, Musing the Obscure: Readings, an Interpretation, and a Guide to the Collected Poetry (New York UP 1967). Close readings of many of Stevens' poems. The complete book is open access, reprinted by permission.

Vendler, Helen. Publisher's sites for On Extended Wings: Wallace Stevens' Longer Poems (Harvard UP, 1969) and for Wallace Stevens: Words Chosen out of Desire (Harvard UP, 1986).

Woodward, Kathleen M. At Last, the Real Distinguished Thing: the Late Poems of Eliot, Pound, Stevens, and Williams (Ohio UP 1980) [and T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, poetry of old age]. (The complete book is available online, from Ohio UP.)

web sites

Wallace Stevens reads his poems. Audio files of Stevens reading in 1952 at Harvard, with an introduction by Richard Wilbur. The reading includes at-that-time unpublished poems "To an Old Philosopher in Rome," "Two Illustrations That the World Is What You Make of It," "Vacancy in the Park," "The Poem That Took the Place of a Mountain," "The World Is Larger in Summer," "Prologues to What Is Possible," "Looking Across the Fields and Watching the Birds Fly," and "Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour." Additional links to audio of readings by Stevens in 1954. The readings are also notable since, as Stevens wrote to Knopf's Publicity Director William Cole, in August 1954, "I never did like to read in public, not only because of personal inhibitions, but because I never thought it was quite the right thing for me to do." Also at this PennSound page, recorded talks on Wallace Stevens by poets Susan Howe, Robert Duncan, and Jack Spicer. PennSound, University of Pennsylvania.

John Ashbery reading from "An Ordinary Evening in New Haven," sections 3, 5, 12, 17, 18 and 30, in Oct. 1989 at St. John's the Divine Cathedral in New York, as part of the induction of Wallace Stevens at the Poets' Corner. PennSound.

The Wallace Stevens Society. Ed. John N. Serio. Web site for the scholarly Wallace Stevens Journal, contains a useful online concordance for searching words used by Stevens in his poems, information about subscribing to the journal, and more.

Friends & Enemies of Wallace Stevens. Web site of a group devoted to preserving Stevens' legacy in Hartford, Conn., and beyond.

"Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." Edward Picot, 2007. An innovative visual interpretation of the poem.

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