- Poetics, Genre, and Style in Stevens's Letters
THIS IS THE SECOND HALF of a double issue on Wallace Stevens's letters that has come out of a conference entitled "Sincerely Yours, Wallace Stevens," which we organized at The Huntington on September 20–21, 2019. Our cover shows a group picture of the conference organizers and speakers decorated with a few scribblings from a letter Stevens wrote to his friend Henry Church and that is to be found in The Huntington's library collection. At the bottom, Stevens assures us that he is still and always sincerely ours.
Not that he didn't have different ways of signing off. The stock phrase "Sincerely Yours" is merely one variant among many in the published letters. Because it became his habitual closing phrase in later years and is predominant in the final third of Holly's Letters of Wallace Stevens, we picked it to serve as our flag for the conference. Yet Stevens wouldn't have been such a lover of variations if he hadn't also sought to improvise alternative ways of saying goodbye to his correspondents. No tedious e-mail culture of preformatted "Best Regards" for him. And so we can take a dizzying delight in the list of at least thirty-five alternatives that, in our quick count, he used over the years: "Yours truly" / "Sincerely yrs" / "Affectionately" / "Your affectionate, troublesome, good-intentioned, nonsensical Wallace" / "With love" / "With much love" / "With very much love" / "Your" / "Your own" / "Very truly yours" / "Yours sincerely" / "Very sincerely yours" / "Yrs truly" / "Recevez, madame, etc." / "Always sincerely yours" / "Always yours" / "Yours very truly" / "With love for both of you" / "Sincerely" / "Love" / "Yours very sincerely" / "Cordially yours" / "Always most sincerely yours" / "Always with best wishes" / "Adios" / "Cordial salutes" / "Most sincerely yours" / "Greetings—and sincerely" / "Always very sincerely yours" / "Vraiment à vous" / "Always—vive le Bard" / "With my best to everyone, sincerely" / "With best wishes, always sincerely yours" / "Auf Wiedersehn!" / "Adieu for the present. Always sincerely."
We do have a reason for playing this little variational game at the outset of this second issue. As we explained in our introduction to the Fall 2020 issue, the seven essays presented there shared a strong historical and [End Page 1] biographical emphasis. By and large, they sought to relate Stevens to his correspondents and the world around him. This historicist angle has become a major aspect of scholarship on the poet ever since The Huntington facilitated archival research more than forty years ago. But such research has never ousted that other strand of Stevens criticism that is primarily hermeneutic and loves to focus on textual interpretation—indeed, in the best scholarship the two often go hand in hand. What brings the following six essays together is the desire to read Stevens's letters closely, both intrinsically as literary artifacts and in terms of the poetics they disclose. This is the kind of critical work that, arguably, has never been done before with quite the same collective, concentrated attention we bring to Stevens's letters here. Specific excerpts have of course been read very carefully as part of larger critical arguments, but their inclusion has usually been instrumental and supportive without the letters themselves becoming the central focus of attention.
That a lot of perceptive and acute textual interpretation already went on in the previous issue is illustrated by the delightful way Lisa Steinman's essay circled around an elliptical and aphoristic quotation from Stevens's letters that we're happy to borrow as a critical motto here: "Everything is complicated" (L 303). There is no better way to demonstrate such complexity than through Juliette Utard's panoramic opening essay, which unfolds the multidimensionality of "epistolary Stevens" and ideally prepares us for a nuanced reading of the letters' many intricacies—both those to which scholars have long gravitated and those they have tended to overlook. For her theoretical framework, Utard uses Jonathan Ellis's recent edited volume Letter Writing Among Poets—a source of inspiration for several contributors to this issue. This allows her to mount a defense of the value of letter writing as a literary genre and to embrace Stevens's correspondence fully...