What reputation and influence has Wallace Stevens had in the years since 1975? The infamous Stevensean disaffection has tended to prohibit definitive legacy, and yet this, in the end, has been productive, forestalling closed arguments among poetics Lefts and Rights, keeping Stevens's work from theoretical alliances until past the point when such would fix its standing in contestations between, for example, theoretical as distinct from historical approaches. To the extent that Stevens can seem anything to anyone, the legacy is of little impact. The many imitations of Stevens's special rhetoric tend to riff on a single poem or idiomatic stance, quick-take attempts at posing in a particular ironic position, one abandoned as quickly as assumed. Among contemporary poets whose own writing contemplates Stevens's overall position, however, a larger pattern does emerge—two Stevenses. First, a meditative Stevens: unagonistic, verbally ruminative, romantic (but called “postromantic”), a repository of human responses, post-Christian yet lyric—a poet whose verse does not make truculent, discordant claims but rather “eke[s] out the mind,” forming “the particulars of sounds.” Secondly, a languaged Stevens: theoretical, serial, and nonnarrative, metapoetically radical, sometimes satirical (and antinarrative), always obsessive about the state of poetics and insisting on consciousness of the compositional mode as itself a pressure inducing the poem to be composed—a poet whose middle and late seriatic styles befit rather than reject the cyclonic modernist historical modes adopted early and briefly by Eliot, grandly and insistently by Pound, and later by Williams.
Al Filreis; The Stevens Wars. boundary 2 1 August 2009; 36 (3): 183–202. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01903659-2009-028
Download citation file: