Beckett, Samuel. Disjecta: Miscellaneous Writings, edited by
Ruby Cohn. New York: Grove Press, 1984. Bridgman, Richard. Gertrude Stein in Pieces. New York:
Oxford University Press, 1970. Curnutt, Kirk, ed. The Critical Response to Gertrude Stein. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000.
Eliot, T. S. "Charleston, Hey! Hey!" Nation & Athenaeum
40.17 (January 29, 1927): 595. Hoffman, Michael, ed. Critical Essays on Gertrude Stein.
Boston: G. K. Hall, 1986. Loy, Mina. "Gertrude Stein." In The Lost Lunar Baedeker, edited by Roger L. Conover. New York: Noonday Press, 1996, p. 94.
Moore, Marianne. "The Spare American Emotion," In The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore, edited by Patricia C. Willis. New York: Penguin, 1987, pp. 128-131. Stein, Gertrude. "Composition as Explanation." In A Stein Reader, edited by Ulla E. Dydo. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1993, pp. 495-503.
--. Stanzas in Meditation. Los Angeles: Sun & Moon
--. Tender Buttons. Gertrude Stein: Writings 1903-1932, edited by Catharine R. Stimpson and Harriet Chessman. New York: Library of America, 1998, pp. 313-355.
STERN, GERALD (1925- ) Gerald Stern is among the most important practitioners of voiced poetry in the later 20th century. Frequently compared with Walt Whitman, Stern often takes as his subject the natural world. Yet his poetry is more than pastoral, and he submits as his subject his own experiences as representational of the reader's. Deborah Garrison identifies the impact of this technique: "It isn't often you come across poetry that makes you want to turn to the stranger next to you on the bus, grab him by the collar, and say, 'You have to read this!'" (103). Stern's verse may be compared with that of Stanley kunitz, William Stafford, Robert bly, and W. S. merwin, particularly in his use of archetypal images within the tradition of deep image poetry. Stern may also be compared with John ashbery in his use of irony. And in his use of discursive narrative, Stern's poetry is similar to that of Edward dorn and Robert pinsky. In the Jewish-American tone of his poetry, Stern's lilt echoes that used by Allen ginsberg.
Stern was born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, the child of Eastern European immigrant parents. Educated at the University of Pittsburgh (B.A., 1947) and Columbia University (M.A., 1949), Stern came to national attention with the publication of Lucky Life (1977). "I didn't start taking myself seriously as a poet / until the white began to appear in my cheek," he wrote in "The Bite" (1973). In 1998 he won the National Book Award for This Time: New and Selected Poems. Stern's recent work, Last Blue (2000) and American Sonnets (2002), continues to render his experiences—everyday occurrences with mythic associations conveyed in narrative—in ways that prompt identification with the speaker's voice.
In "Peaches" (2002), a characteristic poem, Stern recalls throwing a peach stone over a fence at a Metro North train station in Pennsylvania, dreaming that the stone would take root "in spite of the gravel and the newspaper, / and wasn't I like that all my life, and who isn't?" The hope of growth in a sterile urban landscape and the search for commonality are brought forward by a speaker who, as John Rodden discovered in an interview with Stern, radiates with "joy, fun, superabundance, derring-do—though never far away from the perception of good fortune is a sense of tragedy and mortality, a keen awareness of loss and sadness— and of the fact that resurrection is impossible without death" (98). Stern's power rests in observation of the particular and a heartfelt desire to find what is universal among us.
Garrison, Deborah. "Lyricism Unplugged." New Yorker 74.35
(November 16, 1998): 103-104. Somerville, Jane. "Gerald Stern among the Poets: The Speaker as Meaning." American Poetry Review 17.6 (November/December 1988): 11-19. Stern, Gerald. "Splendor in the Weeds: Gerald Stern," by John Rodden. In Performing the Literary Interview: How Writers Craft Their Public Selves, by Rodden. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001, pp. 97-121.
STEVENS, WALLACE (1879-1955) Along with T.S. eliot, William Carlos williams, Marianne MOORE, and Hart crane, Wallace Stevens is associated with American high modernism. Similar to Robert frost (with whom he sometimes fraternized on his vacations in Florida), Stevens theorized and practiced a poetry typical of writing from New England, which looked for truth and reality in nature and the seasons; however, Stevens's "mind of winter" (a favored phrase in his poetry) is often more obscure than Frost's, and though his verse is, by turns, humorous, playful, and musical, it is also stark, difficult, and deadly serious.
Stevens was born in Reading, Pennsylvania. He attended Harvard for three years (1897-1900), where he became acquainted with the philosopher George Santayana, a figure who would become a model for Stevens's own thinking and for whom he would write one of his most well-known later poems, "To an old Philosopher in Rome" (1954). Many early Stevens poems appeared in various Harvard publications, including the Harvard Advocate, of which he became president in 1899. Stevens wished to make a living at writing, and his first job out of college was as a reporter for the New York Herald Tribune, though he quickly became unsatisfied with journalism as a profession. Stevens's father was dismissive of his son's wish to become a man of literature and encouraged him to attend law school; Stevens entered the New York Law School in 1901 and was admitted to the New York bar in 1904. He practiced law in New York City until 1916, when he moved to Hartford, Connecticut, to work for the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, of which he became a vice president in 1934 and for which he would work for the rest of his life. Stevens began to contribute poems to magazines in 1914, and although he did not publish his first full-length collection of poems (Harmonium, 1923) until he was 44 years old, Stevens managed to win nearly every major poetry prize before his death, including prizes from Poetry (1916) and the Nation (1936), the Harriet Monroe Poetry Award (1946), the Bollingen Prize (1950), two National Book Awards (1951 and 1955), and the Pulitzer Prize (1955).
"We live in the mind," Stevens writes in his 1949 essay "Imagination as Value," (140), and indeed many of Stevens's poems—including such well-known works as "notes toward a supreme fiction" (1942), "The Emperor of Ice Cream" (1923), "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" (1923), and "the idea of order at key west" (1936)—detail the movements and mechanisms of this most mysterious organ, exposing both its weaknesses and its strengths. The simultaneous resolution and maintenance of contradiction is what fuels Stevens's work, which often consists of unlikely and seemingly impossible fusions of ideas and emotions that become oddly reconciled, often allowing the reader to stand firmly in a new intellectual position, but one in which his or her previous position is still visible and tangible, if also in shambles. Stevens's work makes frequent use of paradox, a technique that often place the reader in a new intellectual position. In the third stanza of "Poem with Rhythms" (Date) Stevens writes of a woman who, "weeps of [her lover's] breast, though he never comes." While it may be impossible to weep on the breast of someone who is not present, the poem's previous discussion of the size of shadows relative to the things that cast them emphasizes that the mind has no trouble growing to account for the various oddities, illusions, and distortions of the physical world. For Stevens, the mind and the heart are inextricable, and in these lines the there/not-there paradox of the lover—while remaining physically unreal or impossible—is rendered emotionally and intellectually plausible. When the woman receives her lover into her heart—when her heart, like the mind, "[g]rows large against space"—it is as if he were there to be wept on; his absence is made present. For another example, one of his most famous poems, "The Snow Man" (1923), speaks of "Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is." The poem describes the sights and sounds of a landscape as processed by the powers and limitations of "a mind of winter." The small word the performs the Herculean task of separating two similar ideas ("Nothing" and "the nothing"), neither of which has an available or specific referent. By highlighting both the vagueness and the specificity that vacancy can contain, Stevens provides a clearer vision of nothingness, which is also to say a more complicated idea of what nothingness might entail. (The profundity of emptiness and the meaningfulness of small words was echoed by later such poets as Robert creeley, William bronk, and George oppen.)
Stevens's poetry is often associated with exotic places, beings, and happenings, but these transcriptions are the product of a keen and active imagination rather than a detailed record of the poet's life experiences. Although he traveled a bit on business and indulged in a few pleasure excursions to the West
Coast, Florida, and Cuba, Stevens rarely left New England. He never saw Europe, yet his poems—particu-larly in the earlier volumes—often contain a distinctly European flair (see european poetic influence). Stevens also traveled in the mind by maintaining several long-distance correspondents, including Leonard van Geyzel (a Ceylonese plantation owner), Anatole and Paule vidal (Parisian book and art dealers), and José Rodriguez Feo (a Cuban poet). A collector of rare and often expensive paintings and books (most of which he ordered from the Vidals), Stevens fueled his imagination not with geographic wandering, but instead by reading books, looking at paintings, and listening to music, all of which remain consistent figures in his work.
The act of reading becomes one of Stevens's most reliable tropes beginning in his second volume, Ideas of Order (1936), which contains "The Reader," a poem in which the speaker reads a book "as if in a book / Of sombre pages." At the end of the poem, the reading speaker—who has imagined himself to be "in a book"—looks up from the page and transfers his "bookness" to the world around him; pulled from his reverie by what is perhaps the "mumbling" of his own reading voice, the reader sees the clear winter sky as "sombre pages [which bear] no print." This "literate despair" will recur many times over the course of Stevens's poems, perhaps most noticeably in Transport to Summer's "The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm" (1947), in which he writes, "The reader became the book; and summer // night was like the conscious being of the book." In this later poem, the winter of "The Reader" gives way to summer, and the reader's becoming the book is stated rather than merely implied. While Stevens never completely deserts the playfulness and metaphor of his earlier work, his later poems tend to contain more direct statements and less fanciful sentiments. One would be hard pressed to find such a line as "One feels the life of that which gives life as it is" (from 1951's "The Course of a Particular") anywhere in his first book Harmonium.
Donald justice observes that Stevens, though certainly adept at traditional meters, favored two types of free verse line throughout his published work (see prosody and free verse). The first, which is evident in many of his early poems, is a short line—likely derived from the imagist school—that breaks sentences into syntactical units and varies with regard to the number of accents it may contain. This short line is perhaps best illustrated by such early poems as "Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock" and "Ploughing on Sunday" (both from Harmonium), yet it does reappear even in very late poems, such as "One of the Inhabitants of the West" (1954). In an attempt to describe Stevens's short-line metrics in prose, Justice relies on a loose mathematical formula—"2 accents plus or minus 1 (or more)"—while also noticing that each line "contain[s] matter of more than grammatical interest" (16-17). Stevens's longer line, which dominates the late work, is less image-oriented and likely arose, according to Justice, in order to allow for a more complex "development of ideas" that would be impossible in shorter, imagistic lines (26). Stevens's long line begins as fairly regular blank verse in early poems, such as "SUNDAY morning" (1923), and if, in later poems, he will stretch and torque this meter into various shapes of his own making, he never leaves his heroic iambs too far behind. "In the Element of Antagonisms" (from 1950's The Auroras of Autumn) is a prime example of the ways in which Stevens's long line both adheres to and deviates from the "ancient accent" of blank verse, often extending the line beyond 10 syllables and varying his feet to accommodate the rising and falling of thought: "Birds twitter pandemoniums around / The idea of the chevalier of chevaliers."
Although Stevens is occasionally branded a hedonist, a decadent, and a dandy by critics, his influence and popularity among poets is widespread and profound. Like John ashbery, a poet whom many critics, including Harold Bloom, see as Stevens's heir, Stevens has shaped and inspired writers of all types, from formal and traditional "mainstream" poets, such as James MERRILL and Theodore roethke, to more experimental writers, such as Kathleen fraser and Michael palmer. Even Jack spicer, a militant outsider, who once claimed that "everybody in English departments who hates poetry, which is just about everybody, loves Stevens," was forced to praise Stevens for his visionary—and revisionary—talents and tendencies (72).
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