Bevis addresses the most puzzling and least studied aspect of Wallace StevensÆ poetry: detachment. StevensÆ detachment, often associated by readers with asceticism, bareness, or withdrawal, is one of the distinguishing and pervasive characteristics of StevensÆ poetic work. Bevis agues that this detachment is meditative and therefore experiential in origin. Moreover, the meditative Stevens of spare syntax and clear image is in constant tension with the romantic, imaginative Stevens of dazzling metaphors and exuberant flight. Indeed, for Bevis, Stevens is a poet not of imagination and reality, but of imagination and reality, but of imagination and meditation in relation to reality.
Bevis does an excellent job of discussing a difficult subject, an aconceptual state of consciousness for which the West lacks a decent vocabulary. He revises the polemics of Stevens criticism, especially by seeing the old reality vs. imagination dichotomy in an entirely new way. . . . Fascinating reading.
Depending upon the page opened, [this book] could be about anything but Wallace Stevens (even meditation), ranging as it does over Emerson, Vaihinger, cubism, dada, Beethoven, and the founding of baseball—not to mention Yeats, Pound, Joyce, Santayana, or the occult, ecstasy, and hypnosis. However, what might be a deadly criticism of another work is part of my genuine praise of this one. Despite the critical acumen of this book, and despite the proliferation of asides, tangents, and extensions providing the larger context of his argument, Bevis has managed to write something on the order of a meditation itself. . . . .This is one new book, then, well worth reading.
Bevis reconciles asceticism with Stevens' theory of the poetic mind. . . . Bevis also tries to reconcile Marjorie Perloff's 'constructionist' poetics with Helen Vendler's 'expressive' model; Bevis accomplishes such a maneuver by taking up Perloff's 'topic of impersonality,' which she has used against Stevens, and turning it on its head, so that in the end Bevis' Stevens has become Perloff's Pound.
William W. Bevis is emeritus professor of English at the University of Montana.learn more