An Author's Assemblage: Brief Notes and Notices

The accumulation of posts to this web page serves merely as an author’s assemblage of brief notes and notices: the collection of informal bits of information, quotations, and observations gathered as one way to display a personal reflection of perceptions on poetry, publication, and related selections of material drawn from my perspectives as a poet or professor of literature and creative writing.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

William Logan on Wallace Stevens

Much of Stevens is tedious, refractory, pompous, or ponderous; even his masterpieces are full of bombast and puffery. As he got older, he fell into blank-verse philosophizing no less like boilerplate than the reams of legal documents that presumably issued from his office. He’s a poet whose words you want to get behind: the language is as much an obstacle as a pleasure. But, when you parse those phrases, when you go to the Palaz of Hoon and come back again, you’re often a little disappointed. The philosophy of his poems, the grand ones as well as the pleasingly trivial, are those of a freshman class in ontology, epistemology, or aesthetics. Stevens had a high opinion of his philosophical gifts—he was prickly and childish when a late lecture was rejected by the Review of Metaphysics. Eliot, who was a trained philosopher and possessed the subtlest mind among the moderns—perhaps the subtlest mind in all American poetry, if you exclude Melville—knew enough to leave the philosophy out, or to bury it deeply.

The best poems in Stevens don’t require the philosophy (if there’s an exception, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” proves that philosophy is rarely more honored in the observance than in the breach), and the worst are deformed by it. The long poems, those most drawn to Stevens’s metaphysical itch, those that feel it necessary to justify their length in terms of abstractions rendered and sustained (but rarely blooded), have made critics the most diagnostic. The critical response to Stevens has itself so often been abstract, so full of critic’s legalese, it has made him more a great cloud of being than a man who at times played with words. —From “The Sovereign Ghost of Wallace Stevens” by William Logan in The New Criterion (October, 2009)

1 comment:

  1. Mr. Logan, as is so often the case, is anxious to be perverse. I would argue that Stevens knew better than almost any poet how to make poems incorporating philosophical elements, while understanding fully that to write a poem is not to "do" philosophy, and that the late long poems are among his best, very far from "boilerplate." Or perhaps that if Stevens is writing boilerplate, I am happy to work in his boiler room.



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