Poetry must resist the intelligence almost successfully: Wallace Stevens

A few decades after Peter Stuyvesant, the famous immigrant from Friesland who founded New York, another Dutchman, a certain Michiel Stevens, boarded ship to sail to the new world. What happened to him after that is anyone’s guess. All we know is that he married a certain Ryertie Mol, sired a few children, and in a jiffy a century and a half had passed. Apparently he didn’t leave much of a mark on history. Nonetheless, his legacy was invaluable, if only for the fact that he contributed his DNA to the grandson of the grandson of his grandson: Wallace Stevens (1879–1955), a well-to-do gentleman and solicitor for an insurance company, who earned enough money to maintain a couple of expensive hobbies.


Twentieth-century American poetry would have looked completely different without Wallace Stevens. It would have been less philosophical, less abstract, less erudite, less spiritual, but also less witty and sophisticated in its view of the world and the imagination. Stevens is a poet of the utmost precision and one who reconciled the challenges and ideas of America with the traditions of Europe. His work is so rich that virtually every American poet who started out after him has been saddled with an onerous legacy. Above all, he bequeathed us an extremely enjoyable body of work that continues to tell us something about the relation between poetry and the imagination, language and reality. We should be eternally grateful to him for immortal poems such as ‘The Snow Man’, ‘The Man with the Blue Guitar’ and ‘The Idea of Order at Key West’.

Read the full text of 'Wallace Stevens, a Dutchman among the Americans' by Tom van de Voorde (translated by Donald Gardner) on Poetry International Web.

In the event ‘Poetry must resist the intelligence almost successfully’, festival poets Christian Hawkey (USA), Tomas Lieske (Netherlands), Michael Palmer (USA) and Hasso Krull (Estonia) read their favourite poems by Stevens and also read their own work. The poets discuss where and how Stevens’ approach to art, music, philosophy and the comic spirit inspired them.

Music: Meindert Velthuis (baritone/ countertenor), Rita Knuistingh Neven (piano) and Nina Hitz (cello) play songs by composer Ned Rorem based on the poems ‘A Child Asleep in Its Own Life’ and ‘A Clear Day and No Memories’ by Stevens.

Presented by Bart Eeckhout.

  •  Thursday 17 June, 20.00 hrs, Main auditorium