In order to better understand the ways in which readers interact with sound in Stevens’ poetry, I decided to conduct multiple recordings of several of his poems. My first goal in conducting these recordings was to study the sound patterns in these poems by hearing them played out, and to examine the various ways people handle these patterns. As I mentioned earlier, Stevens was very intentional with his use of sound, and I was interested in seeing the ways readers employ these techniques in their readings. My second goal was simply to collect data, which I could then provide as examples to help explain the conclusions I was drawing.
To begin, I selected four of Stevens’ poems: “Infanta Marina,” “Not Ideas About the Thing But the Thing Itself,” “Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour,” and “The Idea of Order at Key West.” These poems were selected for several reasons. For one, they span across Stevens’ writing career. They also deal with similar concepts: thought, imagination, creation, reality, and perception. This makes them easier to address in conjunction with one another. Finally, they are all poems in which Stevens’ sound work is strong.
After selecting the poems, I found twenty people (twenty-one including myself) who were willing to record readings of these poems. These readers included Hope College English department faculty, my fellow creative writing students, and several writers visiting campus as part of the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series. The recordings were made over a time period of seven months. After conducting these recordings, I compared the readings and took note of interesting patterns, including rhythm and emphasis (meter), pronunciation, and common mistakes. I then looked for ways in which these patterns could be tied to the sound techniques Stevens incorporated into the poems, and how those sound techniques could, in turn, be tied to the poems’ meanings.
Copies of the four poems are available here.
All of the recordings are available below.
* If the embedded playlists above aren’t working properly, please use the following links: