John Domini has reminded me that 180 years ago today Dickinson was born. Recently, I was told by someone that he or she had read somewhere something about overrated writers and writing, and that someone at that somewhere said something like, “Anything by Emily Dickinson is overrated,” which brought to mind somebody saying something to me something about how Wallace Stevens wasn’t worth talking about since he’s so widely anthologized, since he’s such an entrenched part of the canon, which all makes me wonder what others think about such dismissals. Do you really care that others think that Dickinson and Stevens and others of their caliber are considered passé?
Having just reread William Gass’s “The Pedersen Kid” yesterday morning, I decided to do a study of associations–what my brain does as I read, what I think of, what I take away–though right there I sally and this Heraclitus quote, used as an epigraph in W.S. Merwin’s The Lice, drips back into my consciousness:
All men are deceived by the appearances of things, even Homer himself, who was the wisest man in Greece; for he was deceived by boys catching lice: they said to him, “What we have caught and what we have killed we have left behind, but what has escaped us we bring with us.”
Is this nugget saying that which we can’t understand stays with us? Maybe. But more and more I take with me what is mysterious. The trove of Wallace Stevens poems that I’ve examined recently has somewhat sunk into me as what I write now leaks his influence. But really the conglomerate of Gass/Gaddis/Rilke/Stevens via John Madera has been instrumental in boosting the language quotient and destroying a quasi-plain style I took on after a few months with Lydia Davis. So lines or formations like, “She wouldn’t let him do what he wanted to do and this frustrated him,” become “There is a way you carry yourself, he said, quickly breaking off because evening drew on, evening and everything evening measures. Our pace, the space between canyons, this leaf living in the book on the chair.”
The following is taken from White’s excellent book The Middle Mind: Why Americans Don’t Think for Themselves (2003 HarperCollins) (reprinted with permission):
“Wallace Stevens’s little book of essays, The Necessary Angel (1942), deserves far more relevance than it seems to have in the present. Stevens’s book is intelligent, humane, and inventive in a way that we should want to value in the present and ever other future moment. The subtitle of this slim book is ‘Essays on Reality and the Imagination.’ What is extraordinary in Stevens’s perception is his certainty that reality and imagination do not stand different from and opposed to one another. They are in fact the same thing. Imagination ‘has the strength of reality or none at all.’ (7)
Waiting For the Day’s Mail
Waiting for the day’s mail
I occupy myself with minutia
My world is real, but it is not yours. In mine, small electric devices are engraved with lines from Stevens: “The single artificer of the world.” We were in Vermont, and driving home. Shirley was with us. We had to go through Hartford.
Three wonderful writers sent in poems–two after one of Stevens’s most popular and most influential poems, “Thirteen Ways of Looking a Blackbird” In alphabetical order: Tiff Holland, W.F. Lantry, and William Walsh
Logging In on Wallace Stevens
On this winter-tilting, groggy morning, with all its torn shreds and twisted sheets of motivation, I wake up and immediately read Stevens’s lines, a few poems, and then think, “this is easy enough, this is what his poetry is…it is three things: a logical proposition, a partial prayer and also something sculptural in language, it is this art.” Stevens’s poetry is about learning an art of reading, too. Not the art of reading, but at the very least a way of learning a syntax, words carefully scored for the page, mingled with the steadiness of purpose that a philosophic, pious mind can offer us.