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Clarkson University’s John Serio Publishes Fifth Book on Noted Poet
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A Clarkson University professor has published his fifth book on one of the most notable -- but little known -- poets of the 20th century.
John N. Serio, a professor of humanities, recently published Selected Poems, a collection of poems written by Wallace Stevens. The book received favorable reviews in the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Nation.
Serio said he is both humbled and "sort of excited" by the publicity. "It feels like my 15 minutes are running out quickly," he said. "I keep pinching myself to see if it’s really me."
In her review in the New York Times Book Review, Harvard’s Helen Vendler said, "John Serio’s winning introduction and informative chronology open up these poems, with their human eloquence, to a generation born a hundred years after Stevens. New readers will find that Stevens convinces by manner as well as conscience, by vivacity as well as fidelity, by tragic feeling as well as comic satire."
The book is published by Alfred A. Knopf, which asked Serio to edit the collection and write an introduction. "Knopf was Stevens’ publisher throughout his whole life," Serio said. "For them to have asked me to do this is quite an honor."
Knopf decided to devote at least one page to each poem, which is unusual for this type of book. "So if you have a poem that’s only eight lines long, it gets a whole page," Serio said. "This has never been done before. Usually they’ll run them together to save space. They were very generous in their layout."
Serio said Selected Poems is also unique in another way. "This is the only collection of Stevens that basically indicates where each poem comes from," he said, noting that other collections run all of them together. "This one is nicely divided with selections from each of his volumes."
Serio said Stevens, who lived from 1879 to 1955, is one of the most significant poets of the last century. "He is really ranked right up there with the major poets of America during the 20th century," he said, including Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams and Elizabeth Bishop. "The interesting thing about Stevens is that he doesn’t share their reputation. He’s not as well known, except perhaps among a small coterie of devotees who realize what an extraordinary poet he really is."
It wasn’t the quality of his work, but Stevens himself who was responsible for the lack of popularity. "He was quite reticent," Serio said. "He didn’t really want publicity and when various magazines tried to interview him, he declined."
Serio said Stevens didn’t like to promote himself, as did Eliot and Robert Frost. "They kind of dominated the scene," he said. "In retrospect, he is the one who has emerged as probably the greatest voice of the 20th century."
Serio said he heard a story that a member of the Nobel Prize committee of the time referred to Stevens as one of their near misses. "Had he won the Nobel Prize, I think it would have made all the difference. He was an extraordinary poet."
Serio joined the Clarkson faculty in 1974. Before that, he taught at Valparaiso University and the University of Notre Dame. He received his bachelor’s degree from SUNY College at Buffalo, his master’s degree from Northwestern University, and his Ph.D. from Notre Dame.
Other books about Stevens by Serio include The Cambridge Companion to Wallace Stevens in 2007; Wallace Stevens, as part of the Poetry for Young People series by the Sterling Publishing Company in 2004; Wallace Stevens: An Annotated Secondary Bibliography (University of Pittsburgh Press) in 1994 and Teaching Wallace Stevens: Practical Essays with B. J. Leggett (University of Tennessee Press), also in 1994. He edited another book for the Poetry for Young People Series, The Seasons, in 2005.
Serio received Fulbright Grants in 1993 and 1998, and participated in the Semester at Sea program in 2005 and 2009.
Serio has been editor of The Wallace Stevens Journal for nearly 30 years. The Wallace Stevens Society, which has its editorial and administrative offices at Clarkson University, publishes the journal. The journal includes scholarly articles, poems, book reviews, news and bibliographies related to the poetry and life of Wallace Stevens. The society maintains a Web site at http://www.wallacestevens.com.
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