If you are afraid of Wallace Stevens, that “ten-foot poet among inchlings,” you very soon won’t be. You will discover a body of poems rooted in a human world of seasons, weather, landscape, feeling, emotions, and rich sensory experience. With unsurpassed language, images and sounds, Stevens’s poems invite us to share his delight in the sensory:
“And deck the bananas in leaves / Plucked from the carob trees
Fibrous and dangling down, / Oozing cantankerous gum….”
At the same time the poems enchant us with their language and color, they disclose the poet’s engagement with ideas about the significance of art, the poet as the one who orders reality, and the reciprocal shaping of the imagination and the material world.
“They said, ‘You have a blue guitar, / You do not play things as they are.’
The man replied, ‘Things as they are / Are changed upon the blue guitar.’”
Here are the themes of each session:
Session 1: “Every time the bucks went clattering over Oklahoma”
Sound, color, music, and the poet who orders reality.
Session 2: “The hair of my blonde is dazzling, / As the spittle of cows threading the wind.”
Arresting images and the wonders of weather, seasons, and landscapes.
Session 3: “One is not a duchess / A hundred yards from a carriage.”
The dialectic between imagination and the material world.
Session 4: “We live in an old chaos of the sun… / Or island solitude, unsponsored, free”
The poet’s profound humanism and the redemptive gift of art.
Riva Berleant is one of those lovers of Wallace Stevens without professional qualifications, at least as a literary critic. She’s really an anthropologist (Professor Emerita, University of Connecticut). She hopes, nevertheless, that decades of soaking up Wallace Stevens has justly emboldened her to organize the colloquy and join in as an equal with the other participants. She does have a BA in English literature and has always been a dedicated reader. She lives in Castine.
Syllabus and Readings:
AS REVISED – October 6, 2022
Everyone should have a copy of The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. The latest edition is corrected (Vintage 2015, ISBN-13 : 978-1101911686), and will be available at Blue Hill Books at a discount for Colloquy registrants, but the edition doesn’t really matter. If you don’t mind a second-hand copy, there are many available. (ABE, Alibris, Thriftbooks). (First page numbers refer to the older edition; newer edition in italics)
Caveat: You can find interpretations of these poems by those who love Stevens and by those who join love with professional qualifications. Spurn them all, at least at first. Let’s trust our group and let each session be a fresh, cooperative exploration. Then, certainly, look at the critics afterward.
Session 1: Sound, color, music, and the poet who orders reality.
Earthy Anecdote (3) (3)
Disillusionment of Ten O’clock (66) (70)
Anecdote of the Jar (76) (81)
Peter Quince at the Clavier (Watch out! It’s longer and asks more of the reader.) (89) (96)
Session 2: Arresting images and the wonders of weather, seasons, and landscapes
Floral Decorations for Bananas (53) (57)
Depression before Spring (63) (67)
Snow and Stars (133) (141)
The Snow Man (9) (10)
Banal Sojourn (62) (66)
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird ( 92) (99)
Session 3. The dialectic between imagination and the material world.
Mozart 1935 (131) (140)
The Sick Man (not included in Collected Poems – Here is a link to a copy of it)
The Emperor of Ice Cream (64) (68)
Sunday Morning: one of the great poems of the twentieth century (66) (71)
Ploughing on Sunday (20) (21)
Session 4. The poet’s profound humanism, the here-and-now, and the redemptive gift of art.
Theory (86) (93)
Anecdote of Men by the Thousand (51) (54)
The Apostrophe to Vincentine (52) (55)
The Brave Man (138) (147)
The Plain Sense of Things (502) (530)
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