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This article is taken from PN Review 169, Volume 32 Number 5, May - June 2006.

Affirming Theatrical Distances: Stevens Over Seas Angus Cleghorn

In transporting Stevens overseas I serve as envoy to tell you about a recent panel on Erotic Poetics at the American Literature Association conference in Boston. It consisted of Carolyn Masel from Australian Catholic University and the University of Melbourne; Charles Berger, Chair of English at the University of Southern Illinois; and David Jarraway from the University of Ottawa. Three nations, and today I come from Canada in the customary diplomatic position between the US and Britain. Yet Stevens never crossed the Atlantic. What do our international perspectives say about his poetry? There are many European inflections to be sure. However, I'm going to focus on the appealing varieties of desire, the distances created in Stevens's poetry to reach readers from around the world. I suggest that Stevens makes room for a universal human apprehension of the non-human, physical world - and that our relation to the earth charges the body of the reader called into the poems.

The ALA papers by Masel, Berger and Jarraway work well together to provide us with a quick, representative forum on Stevens's erotic poetics. My objective includes opening discussion of hot spots and areas of irritation in need of development. Specifically, I am interested in Stevens's post-Floridian spaces of desire; the relation between desire and the object changes in 'The Idea of Order at Key West', when the singer recedes but desire does not. How does Stevens manage to create a bare region that may be somewhat desolate but not ...

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