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This poem is taken from PN Review 171, Volume 33 Number 1, September - October 2006.

A Stegner Anthology Eavan Boland

 Most of the poems here are the work of the current StegnerPoetry Workshop at Stanford University’s Creative Writing Program. The others are by Ken Fields and Simone di Piero, two of the three poets who make up the poetry faculty within the program. I am the third. I have also included a poem by Bruce Snider, a former Stegner Fellow, and now a Jones Lecturer in Poetry at Stanford. In order to frame these poems, I should add a brief and therefore incomplete set of facts about the program.

 Each year ten fellowships are awarded for two years to applicants from all over the United States. This year there were over 1,400 applications for five Fellowships in fiction and five in poetry. The fiction faculty are Tobias Wolff, John L’Heureux, and Elizabeth Tallent. The Creative Writing Program at Stanford is sheltered within the English Department of the University, which is chaired by Ramon Saldivar. All the faculty of the Creative Writing Program are full, tenured Professors within the English department of the University.

 Both poetry and fiction faculty teach the Fellows one workshop a year. And in the spring, at the end of an arduous selection process, we, as faculty, make the decisions as to who will be Stegner Fellows for that year and the following.

 This somewhat businesslike version of the program does no justice to its powerful, generative and influential nature. Founded in the 1940s at Stanford, its presiding spirits were Wallace Stegner, the legendary prose writer, and Yvor Winters, the equally legendary poet. Many remarkable writers have taught in the program, from Donald Davie to Nancy Packer to Gil Sorrentiono to Denise Levertov.

 The poets who come as Stegner Fellows are accomplished, ambitious, well published and often just on the threshold of finishing a first book. Sometimes they already have. The poems here are from the current workshop. I taught in this workshop in the winter quarter this year. The workshops are long – often three or more hours – and again and again I was struck during them by the energy, force and distinction of these poets.

 Nevertheless, the poems here prove one thing. It’s unwise to look for settled agendas or easy fixes in the work of emerging poets. To take just one example: 9/11 has been identified as a watershed in the United States, both culturally and politically – as well as being a profound human tragedy. But its effect on American poetry is particularly hard to calibrate. Maybe that’s not surprising: The relation of a public event to private imagination, after all, is seismic. The changes that come after such an event – like the ones in Ireland in the 1970s – probably have their first visible effects on the poet, not the poem Another layer of seriousness, a grittier purpose – these aren’t quantifiable as syntax or image or cadence. But they’re here somewhere, I feel sure.

 That being said, these poems are all different, all experimenting in various directions. From Shane Book’s edgy voice narrative of assault in ‘Mistakes’, to Maria Hummel’s freaky nuclear prospect in ‘Grid’ there are politics here, certainly. But the private is the fixed star governing the public, and at all times is ready to subsume it, as in Sarah Michas-Martin’s sharp portrait of generational women in ‘Arising from Impulse’ and Keith Ekiss’s iconic poem ‘Myth of Origin’. The compelling absences in Rachel Richardson’s poem about a displaced suitor may be more mythic than political, but they find an echo in Alison Stine’s poignant poem ‘The Land’. Similarly, Matt Miller’s brave, abrasive poem about demi-gods scolds a culture, while Jim Fisher’s poem ‘Grid’ celebrates its abstract power and Jeff Hoffman boldly goes to a dark side in ‘Alexander Hamilton’ which John Struloeff holds in eloquent, satiric poise in ‘Voyeurs’.

 Are these poems political? Not really – not in any exact sense. But is there a shading here of public anxiety in the private tone? Is there a deflection of the private in some of these public themes? And is that hybrid voice new, more urgent, more accurate? These are questions for the reader.

 I want to thank the Stegner Fellows for these poems. To thank, also, my colleagues Ken Fields and Simone di Piero for the lovely, graceful poems they provided at short notice. They were essential to this, as to so much else. And Bruce Snider also, who with Sara Michas-Martin is a Jones Lecturer in the program and continues the rich tradition of teaching creative writing at Stanford.

 Finally I want to thank Michael Schmidt for hosting these poems. I’ve often had the experience of leaving an exciting afternoon’s workshop with a sense of the vitality, but also the ephemera of that conversation. On those occasions I sometimes wished I’d had a snapshot of those energies. This may not be exactly that. But, in showcasing the work of these immensely talented poets, it’s the next best thing.
 
Eavan Boland
   Stanford, Dublin, 2006



Shane Book

 Shane Book was a Stegner Fellow from 2004 to 2006. His poems have recently appeared in The Boston Review , The Iowa Review , and Revival: An Anthology of Black Canadian Writing .

Mistakes

 The nightstick hooks in under my armpits.
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