Saturday, September 17, 2011

Wallace Stevens - Ideas of Order

"I don’t know how Wallace Stevens’ work got into the canon. Perhaps it’s one of those 'You had to be there' instances."

"OK so I'm not a trained critic and this is just my opinion. Does anyone else see the obvious artifice in his poetry?"

"If poets aren't interested in being understood, they will have to resign themselves to being read by no one except English Lit drones. There was a time when poetry was so popular in the USA that many daily newspapers had daily poems and the average worker with a grade school education could recite several great American poems by heart. That was also the time when poets wrote about things that people experienced and could relate to ... I started this book because Stevens was said to be a great poet. After forcing myself through twenty of these poems I still had no idea what any of them were about. I might as well have been reading Icelandic for all I got out of them. Here's an example of how Stevens unnecessarily obscures his poetry: in one poem, he refers to 'the halo-John.' This phrase never occurred before Stevens used it. Its appearance stops the reader as abruptly as if he had driven into a brick wall. Who or what is "the halo-John"? The reader searches through the rest of the poem for clues. Ok, it is a religious poem so maybe he means St. John the Evangelist because saints have halos. But why not just say 'St. John'? 'The halo-John' doesn't add anything to the poem. In fact, it detracts as the reader has to stop reading the poem in order to do the equivalent of a crossword puzzle exercise in order to proceed further. If the reader isn't christian, he may be completely out of luck. Stevens doesn't just do this sort of thing once or twice; his poems are full of this sort of nonsense. If a poem needs a commentary in order to appreciate it, the poem is a failure because this sort of poet is incapable of speaking to the reader without an intermediary, a literary priest to offer sacrifices for the poor, ignorant layman who has insufficient piety and intelligence to approach the divine mysteries of poetry on his own. The reader has his revenge, though. Poetry is unread. Poetry becomes irrelevant. Poets must either scrap with each other for literary prizes that mean the difference between starvation and three steady meals a day or slog away at teaching jobs since no one will buy their work. My copy of this book of poetry will meet its end in the dumpster ... If there isn't an audience for someone's work, it isn't great. No audience, no talent."

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