Wallace Stevens is alive and well in the work of Yale student poets.
At the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Tuesday afternoon, 11 undergraduate and graduate students read their original poetry for an audience of about 60 people. The works touched on nostalgic memories of the poets’ childhoods, paintings at the Yale University Art Gallery and yearning for the beauty of the Midwest, among other themes. Most of the readers recited their pieces at a slow and deliberate pace, and many of the poems were precise and understated — similar to the style of Stevens and other Modernist poets.
“Father and child walk into the wood / calling the great-horned owl,” wrote Laura Marris ’10 in the poem “January.” The poem ends with the child studying the ground and shadows, as light waxes and wanes from a moon they cannot see. In “Westward,” the other poem Marris read, it is “so early the gulls can eat their garbage unmolested.”
In both poems, Marris, an English major writing her thesis on Wallace Stevens, creates an air of stillness and emphasizes the commonplace.
Many of the poets read poems about history, art or other academic subjects, probably drawn from their classes, Marris noted.
“Poetry is the landscape of what one sees,” she said. “In the reading, we saw the collegiate landscape.”
Alice Baumgartner ’10 read two works that she said were inspired by the Midwest, where she grew up. In the poem “The Snake Hunt,” she spoke of a beauty queen “pale-skinned, tight-lipped, narrow waist” who “holds the cotton skirt in her sunburnt hands.” The roads in the poem are lined with “telephone poles like clothespins / on a line.”
Baumgartner (a columnist for the News) cited Elizabeth Bishop, Deborah Digges and Brigit Pegeen Kelly as three of her favorite poets. While she said she likes Stevens, she said she prefers these other writers, whose styles are still somewhat in keeping with the American Modernist tradition.
Rosanna Oh ’10 read two works, “Landscape with Monk and Sea” and “Two Bulls Fighting,” inspired by paintings.
“Though it is unclear whether the single figure in the painting / stands up on a high rock or a grassy dune, / a man is facing the sea,” Oh wrote.
Justin Sider GRD ’14 read one work inspired by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky and one called, “A Secret Diary,” inspired in part by “Daily Themes,” the English class for which he tutors.
“It’s possible that there’s a lingering Stevens effect in a lot of students’ writing,” said Sider, who is working on a doctoral dissertation Wallace Stevens.
Edgar Garcia GRD ’14, a graduate student in English who also tutors for “Daily Themes,” said he saw a great deal of modesty and sentimental intellectualism in the work at the reading.
“There’s a real desire to respect the integrity of the poetic line,” he said. “It would be interesting to see more poets break that or do something wilder.”
Garcia said he was a fan of Ezra Pound and Walt Whitman and was “not a Stevensian.” He added, “You can put that in all caps.”