Reviews of Anne Stevenson's Work
Here, in some 400 tall pages, is gathered half a century of intense looking, feeling, thinking and transforming. Linear time has been ignored, though we are given the bibliographical means to relay its shining, deceptive track...Instead we have a blocked-out thematic tapestry in which huge shapes interlock, overlap and dovetail; the poems, like the components of that glittering mechanism in "Washing the Clocks", lie on the pages 'making up time by themselves,/ rinsing the mesh of their wheels in mysterious oil,' as the book moves musically from its Prologue through its eight major sections - physical geographies in The Way You Say the World, the human story in Seven Ages, artistic creation in The Art of Making - to its closing section, In Memoriam. We now have a new way of looking at this huge, wayward voyage, the exasperated and loving explorations of a sensibility formed by the American academe of her childhood and youth and a deep ambivalent love of the England Anne Stevenson has lived and worked in for most of her life...
The poetic act of looking in love allows the gate to swing on its hinge and admit presences that cold looking can never admit: presences whose nature is mysterious, contra-rational - bringers of what Auden called 'sacred encounters', events in the psyche which must be responded to...
Bloodaxe is to be congratulated on producing such a handsome and fitting tribute to one of the most civilised and enjoyable voices of our time: a voice which has triumphantly shown how to turn 'then' back into 'now' again.
January 20 2006
Pamela Stewart: "Out of the Mute Dark", Planet
The Welsh Internationalist, 174
Reviewing: Poems 1955-2005
I don't know what makes a writer as wonderful and varied as Anne Stevenson, what lets her commit her intention, effort and skill to the on-going life of poetry. We get this great big book to hold in our hands, but the poet does the work, conjures words, selects and places one next to the other... Stevenson examines just about everything a poet can. Out of the "mute dark" comes her singular voice with its variations: one woman to another, one house or community to another, one country to another; poet, mother, lover, friend to the wider world, she's always human and personal but not exploitive. The poems in Anne Stevenson's collection remind us that poetry is essential to our lives and our civilisation.
"Chief among Anne Stevenson's targets are those poets and critics who, in her view, have capitulated to factionalism and whose work seems committed to fulfilling a particular group's expectations...The real value of her writing about poetry resides in her insider dealing, detailed and eloquent on the processes of creation: that "slightly bored melancholy that nurtures imagination, as opposed to willed moods of efficiency."
February 26, 1999.
From the same review in the TLS:
"[In FIVE LOOKS AT ELIZABETH BISHOP] biography and close reading of Bishop's poems and prose complement each other in what must surely be the best available introduction to that marvellous poet."
"Stevenson has always been a poet concerned with memory and with how lives are shaped through language...In the early part of the book, the poet looks back to a Michigan childhood and student days in Ann Arbor, which carry the genesis of a writer's life...Sometimes her concern with history opens out onto a geological scale, particularly in the poems that have a Welsh setting...There are poems, always sharply accurate, perfectly balanced, musically assured, about `Mozart, Nicholas Culpeper, mythology, fossils, Whistler and oysters, in a collection whose tone is always affirmative, generous and nonconformist."
December 1, 2000.
"In a generous and beautifully-produced volume she has given the literary world not only an extraordinary talent but also an example of instinct, integrity, persistence and a rare quality of passionate thinking. These Collected Poems represent a wonderful achievement."
"[Her] vocation, worked out over forty years with Stevenson's rare blend of disconcerting intelligence and sensory immediacy, is by no means yet fully defined. A poet of Anne Stevenson's calibre will continue to "inhabit, make, inherit" poetry. But while she writes, go out at once and buy her Collected Poems."
"With Four and a Half Dancing Men Stevenson makes it patently clear that she is more than just a biographer of Sylvia Plath; she is among the wisest, wittiest, and most accomplished of contemporary poets in the language".