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A Reader's Guide to Wallace Stevens [Kindle Edition]

Eleanor Cook
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Wallace Stevens is one of the major poets of the twentieth century, and also among the most challenging. His poems can be dazzling in their verbal brilliance. They are often shot through with lavish imagery and wit, informed by a lawyer's logic, and disarmingly unexpected: a singing jackrabbit, the seductive Nanzia Nunzio. They also spoke--and still speak--to contemporary concerns. Though his work is popular and his readership continues to grow, many readers encountering it are baffled by such rich and strange poetry.

Eleanor Cook, a leading critic of poetry and expert on Stevens, gives us here the essential reader's guide to this important American poet. Cook goes through each of Stevens's poems in his six major collections as well as his later lyrics, in chronological order. For each poem she provides an introductory head note and a series of annotations on difficult phrases and references, illuminating for us just why and how Stevens was a master at his art. Her annotations, which include both previously unpublished scholarship and interpretive remarks, will benefit beginners and specialists alike. Cook also provides a brief biography of Stevens, and offers a detailed appendix on how to read modern poetry.

A Reader's Guide to Wallace Stevens is an indispensable resource and the perfect companion to The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, first published in 1954 in honor of Stevens's seventy-fifth birthday, as well as to the 1997 collection Wallace Stevens: Collected Poetry and Prose.

Editorial Reviews


In contrast to guides that provide long, involved commentaries, Cook's incisiveness and brevity are impressive--she sheds light without forcing her interpretation.


In contrast to guides that provide long, involved commentaries, Cook's incisiveness and brevity are impressive--she sheds light without forcing her interpretation. (Nancy R. Ives )

A Reader's Guide to Wallace Stevens is a solid reference work that will help open doors for a wide variety of readers. It will be especially useful to instructors who are beginning to teach Stevens, providing them with sources, analogues, translations, and other materials that will help students connect with Stevens' work with ease and pleasure. (Janet McCann The Wallace Stevens Journal )

Although the biographical and critical literature on this demanding modern American poet is extensive, this is a valuable and rich addition to that literature. Cook provides short paragraphs about the poems, each preceded by the poem's publication history. When more than one version of the poem exists, she provides necessary and interesting information about variations. (B. Wallenstein Choice )

A Reader's Guide to Wallace Stevens is designed for all these types of Stevens's readers--the knowledgeable, the studious, the enthusiastic, the occasional, the curious, the baffled but persistent at all levels. (William Baker Library Review )

Cook's annotated catalogue of Stevens's gaudy particulars is, like her other recent book on riddle and enigma, mesmerizing . . . . The section-by-section analyses of Stevens's longer poems are invaluable. . . . All the individual glosses . . . are, where relevant, cross-referenced to one another, giving the effect of diagonal threads running under the whole of Stevens's published work. . . . These intra-Stevensian echoes are placed side by side with allusions to literary, philosophical, and biblical history, so that what you end up with is a version of world literature in which Stevens is always nearby, like some exotic common denominator. (Paul Grimstad Yale Review )

In addition to superb commentary, there's an Appendix--27 golden pages--on how to read poetry. And the guide to Stevens's poems is full of shrewd, humane, often witty insights into a poetry that we thought we had gotten over. (Tom D'Evelyn The Books we loved in '07 )

Cook's Reader's Guide provides both the broad overviews and local glosses needed by serious students of Stevens's difficult poetry. . . . Those glosses . . . go well beyond simply noting publication history and defining unfamiliar terms. Indeed, many are small fragmentary essays, comprising paragraph-long overviews and important readings of individual phrases and images. . . . Cook's glosses, like Stevens's lines, transform what might be woody apparatus into provocations to see anew. The . . . appendix, 'How To Read Poetry, Including Stevens' . . . should be of great service to novice readers of Stevens. Some of her advice here is commonsense and elementary, but some . . . is fresh and even fun. (Michael Thurston American Literary Scholarship )

Product Details

  • File Size: 676 KB
  • Print Length: 376 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (March 9, 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002WJM5BO
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #442,939 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At long last! A commentary on the complete Stevens July 28, 2007
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If you're like me, you've often wondered, "What on earth is he talking about?" when reading a Wallace Stevens poem. But then you've read on, enchanted by the language, rhythm, and strange juxtapositions. This book is the answer to your prayers. Though it doesn't go into great detail, it nonetheless comments on every poem in Stevens' "Collected Poems" and "Late Poems." For me Eleanor Cook's annotations provide a foothold into many lyrics that I previously found impenetrable, and her enthusiasm for poems that I had thought unremarkable has made me reconsider my first impressions. For instance, her brief notes on one of my favorites, "Landscape with Boat," pointed me to a much deeper poem on the same subject, "Mrs. Alfred Uruguay." And I had never cared much for "Domination of Black," but Cook made me see its spooky sublimity. She does this concisely, typically in half a page or less (longer, of course, for the long poems). Her essay at the end of the book, "How to Read Poetry, Including Stevens," is similarly perceptive--though a little oblique, as if she is getting at the mystery of Stevens' technique using his own methods. For Stevens fans, I cannot recommend this book too highly. All you need is the Library of America edition "Wallace Stevens: Collected Poetry and Prose" and this gem of a book.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Commentary March 5, 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Eleanor Cook's piece provides an easily accessible passage into some of Stevens' more opaque references. Her work covers each poem in Stevens' oeuvre and does an excellent job of tracing images, symbols, and themes throughout while referencing both earlier and later versions of those images, etc. I must agree with the previous reviewer that it does not go into great detail, though it is an excellent tool for any Stevens afficiando who is delving deep into his work.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Stevens is a poet of great beauty and great perplexity. One can love his Poetry tremendously without really understanding it. This is because of its music, its color, the magic of its language. Still the meaning- seeking creature reads, and wants to understand. Eleanor Cook may not provide an answer to every question the reader has, may not provide a full and complete reading to individual poems- but she will provide greater understanding of each poem, explanation of difficult phrases, and insight into the poems' relation to other Stevens' poems. Her book also has a short biography of Wallace Stevens, and a concluding section on 'How to Read Poetry' which also may be of use.
But the heart of it is her reading of the poems.
This book should be in the library of every reader and lover of the work of one of America's greatest poets.
Beauty is momentary in the mind, but this book tries to make it in the reading, immortal.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Indispensable Guide September 9, 2009
By T. Tse
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
No matter how learned you are, Wallace Stevens can be a challenge. This indispensable guide provides poem-by-poem analyses, clarifying unusual associations, digging up references peculiar to his time, translating phrases in other languages, etc. You will walk away with a deeper appreciation of his elegant diction and formidable formal technique. It is best as a companion to the Library of America edition, but also serves the Collected Poems well.

I do agree that the discussion on "How to Read Poetry" is slightly oblique. However, the short biography in front is illuminating.

One word of caution: This is not a book on literary criticism. You will not find a discussion of the larger meaning of influential poems such as "Sunday Morning", "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction", "The Auroras of Autumn", etc. For that, you would have to consult the Cambridge Companion to Wallace Stevens or specialized works by critics such as Helen Vendler or Harold Bloom.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Indispensable May 16, 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Thank you, Dr. Cook, for explicating America's best poet since Whitman.
Wallace Stevens was the quintessential Poet, an insurance executive who understood the impossible connection between Reality, Imagination, and the words we use to try to spell these out.
Sadly, without this Guide, Stevens goes right over our heads most of the time. We intuit the meaning, seeing through his crystal clear looking glass rather darkly. But we love his poetry just the same.
My only wish is that this Guide was four, five, or even ten times longer.
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