Friday, March 07, 2008

Thirteen ways of looking for Wallace Stevens

Somehow, I seem to have misplaced Wallace Stevens. He should be on the syllabus, tucked neatly between William Carlos Williams and Marianne Moore (and don't you wonder what they talk about when no one is listening?). But no matter how carefully I look, I just can't find him.

I didn't even realize that I had left Stevens off the syllabus for my American Lit Survey class until I sat down to write the midterm exam, using last year's exam as inspiration. Wallace Stevens was on the exam last year, which means he must have been on the syllabus last year. Why isn't he on the syllabus this year? I don't remember taking him off. Editing error? Momentary lapse of attention? Triumph of my subconscious mind, which still quakes in panic at the memory of that moment in my oral comprehensive exam when I suddenly froze up on being asked to explicate a Stevens poem?

The more important question is whether my students are suffering from the absence of Wallace Stevens. I haven't heard any complaints, but that's not surprising. The survey class is designed to introduce students to the important authors of the era, but for most of them, it is a first-time meeting (and often a final meeting as well). How many introductory survey students would know enough to notice the absence of Wallace Stevens? I suppose I would hear about it if I neglected Robert Frost, but Stevens is a taste many of my students have not yet acquired.

And now they won't, thanks to me. If the Canon Police find out that I'm loosing a whole class full of students into the world without any awareness of Wallace Stevens, they'll brutally beat me about the shoulders with the Norton Anthology of American Literature (and not the shorter version either). So let's hope they don't find out! Let's just keep this between you and me.

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