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This article is taken from PN Review 91, Volume 19 Number 5, May - June 1993.

Better fame: the poetry of Anne Stevenson Chris McCully

THE CONTROVERSY that surrounded Bitter Fame, Anne Stevenson's biography of Sylvia Plath, is a salutary reminder that this is a time obsessed by interpretation. Biography and theory are better business than poetry. Anne Stevenson's poetry, however, is an equally salutary reminder that there are things that can be said only in verse: in Stevenson's terms, the deepest and most powerful interpretations may yield themselves only to poetry's fictive music. If there are three recurrent themes in her work, they are precisely those of fiction-making, of music, and of restlessness. A further theme - more surprising given the scrupulousness of the poems - is a distrust for the 'academic', and a trust in the value of formal exploration, not for its relevance to a syllabus or curriculum, but for its own sake.

Anne Stevenson's poetry spans the Atlantic and three decades. Her major collections include Living in America (Ann Arbor, 1965), Reversals (Wesleyan University Press, 1969), Correspondences (Wesleyan University Press, 1974), Travelling behind Glass: Selected Poems 1963-1973 (OUP, 1974), the transitional and important Enough of Green (OUP, 1977), Minute by Glass Minute (OUP, 1982), The Fiction-makers (OUP, 1985), a further Selected Poems 1956-1986 (OUP, 1987), and The Other House (OUP, 1990). She is also author of a study of Elizabeth Bishop (Twayne, 1966), and, of course but less celebratorily, is Plath's biographer (1989).

The trajectory involved in such a span is not that of comfortable organic growth. From volume to volume, but particularly in her earlier ...


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