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This report is taken from PN Review 191, Volume 36 Number 3, January - February 2010.

Alan Stephens (1925-2009) Clive Wilmer

The American poet Alan Stephens died on 21 July 2009 at the age of 83. His work has never been known in Britain, and in the United States it has long been out of print. This was largely due to his aversion to literary fashion and competitive publication, but it ought not to be the case. Hence this short tribute.

Born in Colorado in 1925, Stephens spent thirty years teaching English and Creative Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. By birth, temperament and loyalty a Westerner, he was always mildly suspicious of Easterners and what seemed to him the exaggerated claims they made for themselves. He was never a provincial, however, but a person of wide and humane culture. In a period of some three months in which I saw a great deal of him, I remember him talking passionately about the following writers: Sophocles, Horace, Boethius, Sir Philip Sidney, Henry Vaughan, David Hume, Charles Darwin, Thomas Hardy, William Carlos Williams, Ernest Hemingway and Thom Gunn (‘the best poet we have at the present time’). There were plenty of others too, but they have not stuck.

Like Gunn, with whom he had been friendly, he studied at Stanford under Yvor Winters. Together with Gunn and Donald Hall, he developed the theory and practice of syllabic verse, which is most strikingly used in a book-length narrative sequence White River Poems (1976). Most of his late work, though, is in the standard metres, and ...


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