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This poem is taken from PN Review 127, Volume 25 Number 5, May - June 1999.

A Stegner Anthology Eavan Boland

Most of the poems here are the work of the current Stegner Poetry Workshop at Stanford University's Creative Writing Program. There are ten poets in the workshop - ten current Stegner Fellows - and they are represented here by recent poems. 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. In order to frame these poems - and justify the hospitality of the editor of PN Review in providing a long overdue glance at a senior workshop - I should add a very incomplete set of facts.

Each year ten fellowships - five in poetry and five in fiction - are awarded by the Creative Writing Program at Stanford, out of an application of more than a thousand. They allow the recipients to have two years support while they work on their first book manuscripts. The fellowships are decided on, after months of scrutiny and shared conversations, by the respective faculty of fiction and poetry. The current fiction faculty are Gil Sorrentino, Elizabeth Tallent, John L'Heureux and Tobias Wolff.

These bare facts, however, do no justice at all to the vibrant and influential nature of the Stanford Creative Writing Program. I am a relative newcomer, having replaced Denise Levertov at Stanford in 1995. I took over the Directorship only last year. But in fact since the 1940s the program has nurtured an extraordinary group of American writers, from Scott Turow to Robert Pinsky, from Tobias Wolff and Thom Gunn to Philip Levine and, recently, Samantha Chang.

The founding spirit of the poetry workshop - just as Wallace Stegner in fiction - is certainly Yvor Winters - and so it is particularly appropriate that Ken Fields's lovely poem for Janet Lewis, Winters's wife and a celebrated writer, should be included here. Winters, above all,discounts the reflexive view - far more common in the UK and Ireland than in the United States - that a workshop is some factory of the spirit, where poets learn to write like one another and fiction writers perfect a single, slight model of the fashionable fiction of the day.

The Stegner workshops at Stanford represent at all times a passionate community of writers and readers. And from that comes what every group of writers should aspire to: a community of craft, always in process, always dealing with unfinished business. When I look at the poems from this workshop - so various, so unpredictable and so forceful - I see poets from very different worlds, with very different ideas and yet with one common purpose. That is enough to remind me - and anyone else - that the opposite of the workshop is not some prelapsarian world of poetry and talk. All too often it is the coterie: a subtle tangle of received opinion, mutual flattery, and fears of experimentation. This workshop has little fear and no flattery. These poets challenge each other continually with surprises, disagreements, and different ways of looking at the poem. And the results are evident here.


asylum

The fish are the first to return:
the moorish idol, the black surgeon,

the trumpet and lesser scorpion, the angel
seemingly radiogenic, the goatfish

with its face of spikes. Whole phyla converging:
the devil rays in fluid sheets, the leatherbacks,

hawksbills, their shells reticent as maps.
On the atoll: the golden plover, the kingfisher,

egrets and honeyeaters
nesting like an occupation. And the flowers:
...


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