Is Wallace Stevens’s definition of poetry in “Of Modern Poetry” the same now? Give an example of a contemporary piece of poetry to support your comparison.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Though, as with all literature, there are many possible interpretations of Stevens's "Of Modern Poetry," I would argue that the "formula" he presents for verse is intended as at least partly ironic.

Consider the following lines:

It has not always had
To find: the scene was set; it repeated what
Was in the script.
I am not sure what period of literature Stevens is referring to in saying that at one time, poetry "repeated what was in the script." In the poem, the speaker seems to be presenting a caricatured view of what literature used to be at some time in the past, when it was presumably easier for poets to write convincing verse and to reach an audience or readership simply by repeating known truths. The speaker is reacting against this situation, the demand that in the modernist period poetry must
construct a new stage. It has to be on that stage
And, like an insatiable actor, slowly and
With meditation, speak words that in the ear,
In the delicatest ear of the mind, repeat,
Exactly, that which it wants to hear....
No writer genuinely believes that they must speak or repeat words that are "exactly" what "the delicatest ear of the mind" wishes to hear. Stevens's message, in my opinion, is that the poet has unfairly been placed in a position where they cannot continue to express their own truths, as poets in the past were able to do and, in fact, did successfully. In summary, I would argue that he is expressing a defiant resistance to the apparent demands society makes on the modern artist.
Is there a contemporary poem that expresses or validates Stevens's ideas about modernist art? Though some would think that the lyrics of popular music are not "true" poetry, I would counter that popular art is at the center of our culture and therefore represents the most central and valid form of artistic expression in the contemporary world. The lyrics of Lady Gaga's songs tend to be an ironic commentary on the relationship of an artist to his or her audience. "Paparazzi" is about an attraction-repulsion that exists between the singer/speaker and the crowd that follows her and makes or breaks her. In my view this idea does, in fact, support the validity of Stevens's criticism of the demand that in the modern artistic world, one cannot simply write poetry without attuning it to the desire of the crowd to have its own ideas echoed, repeated to it. On the surface, "Paparazzi" is a story of a personal relationship (and is depicted this way in the video), but on a higher level the lyrics are about the connection between artists and their audiences. Is the artist drawn to the crowd or the crowd drawn to the artist? On which side is the dependence stronger? Or is it actually an antagonism between sides?
I'm your biggest fan,
I'll follow you until you love me,
The obvious Freudian implications of those lines are significant, but the entire song is about the meaning of art in the modern world and the freedom or restrictions imposed upon artists. Lady Gaga's verses are an indication that the concerns and questions posed nearly a century ago by Wallace Stevens are still valid today.
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial