The Idea of Order at Key West
All Things Elevated
Go ahead. Flip through your handy poetry anthology. (You always have it with you, right? Shmoop does. We're like that, you know: ultra-cool and ultra-prepared—kind of like a super-hip boy scout). Anyway, read three or four Stevens poems and you'll start to get an idea of what makes a Stevens poem sound like Stevens.
For many of you, the first thing that you'll notice will be that each one of the poems makes you desperately want to stop reading. Good observation! Really. What you are reacting to is the elevated tone and diction along with a healthy dose of complicated syntax: Wallace uses lots of tricky vocabulary and complex structures. Even a poem with a fun and light-hearted title like "The Emperor of Ice-Cream" can leave you wondering what just happened, and cause something like an ice-cream headache. You'll also likely notice some recurring themes. Art and poetry are faves. So are poems that deal with ways of looking at the world.
So, you know it's a Stevens poem if you've got your dictionary out and your brain is in a half-nelson. Stevens' poetry is an acquired taste. It's not cheeseburger and fries. It's more like caviar or sea urchin: a little tricky to get down the first time, but once you get a taste for it, you're hooked. More than that, the deep, deep, really just… super-deep thoughts that lurk below Stevens' difficult surfaces can nourish your mind and spirit way more than some fish eggs on a cracker.