Wallace Stevens’ Letter to His Wife

Shortly after receiving an award, American poet Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) penned a letter to his wife Elsie on July 19, 1916:

Eminent Vers Libriste Arrives in Town: Details of Reception

St Paul, Minn. July 19, 1916. Wallace Stevens, the playwright and barrister, arrived at Union Station, at 10.30 o’clock this morning. Some thirty representatives of the press were not present to greet him. He proceeded on foot to the Hotel St. Paul, where they had no room for him. Thereupon, carrying an umbrella and two mysterious looking bags, he proceeded to Minnesota Club, 4th & Washington-Streets, St. Paul where he will stay while he is in St. Paul. At the Club, Mr. Stevens took a shower-bath and succeeded in flooding not only the bath-room floor but the bed-room floor as well. He used all the bath-towels in mopping up the mess and was obliged to dry himself with a wash-cloth. From the Club, Mr. Stevens went down-town on business. When asked how he liked St. Paul, Mr. Stevens, borrowing a cigar, said, ‘I like it.’

Dear Bud:

The above clipping may be of interest to you. Note my address. I am waiting for some papers to be typed — ah! Give my best to the family.

With love,


If you are wondering, the “above clipping” was indeed written by Stevens himself. It was a parody on the high level of publicity received by popular writers and poets at the time everytime they visited a place.

Perhaps, like a number of Stevens’ contemporaries, he wasn’t that fond of media attention, though I’m not certain about it.

Conrad Aiken (1889-1973), a contemporary of Stevens, lamented that poetry was getting too popular. He was particularly critical of the Poetry Magazine, who was giving poetry-related awards left and right, which in his perspective, turned poetry into a cheap spectacle. Even the editor of the Poetry Magazine, Harriet Monroe (1860-1936) expressed a similar sentiment as she was concerned that poetry was becoming too mainstream. On the flipside, Alice Corbin Henderson (1881-1949), her assistant editor, was worried that the current popularity of poetry may just be a fleeting fad.

In 1918, an article published in the Dial recounted the eventful happenings in the poetry scene during the summer of 1916:

The Muse was on the make hereabouts: patronesses had been discovering her; prizes were multiplying; newspapers were giving critics their head; poetry magazines, mushrooms or hardier plants were springing up overnight; it was raining anthologies—boom times!


Richardson, Joan (1988). Wallace Stevens: The Early Years, 1879-1923.

Williams, Ellen (1977). Harriet Monroe and the Poetry Renaissance: The First Ten Years of Poetry, 1912-22.

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My name Edmark M. Law. I work as a freelance writer, mainly writing about science and mathematics. I am an ardent hobbyist. I like to read, solve puzzles, play chess, make origami and play basketball. In addition, I dabble in magic, particularly card magic and other sleight-of-hand type magic. I live in Hong Kong. You can find me on Twitter` and Facebook. My email is edmarklaw@learnfunfacts.com

15 thoughts on “Wallace Stevens’ Letter to His Wife

  1. Reminds me of Theocritus’ complaints in Idyll 16: “I am but one, but many others too do the daughters of Zeus love.” He portrays his own poems as sitting forlorn, unloved and unwanted, while seemingly every other poet has a wealthy patron for whom they pen epic-styled versicles. As a writer of poetry in the contemporary era, I shake my head at such observations: I reckon MFA programs are booming and Poetry magazine is still going strong, but there certainly is no sense in which I’d assent to the proposition that, at the popular level, poetry is just too in vogue. Quite the opposite, I’m afraid. Thanks for this piece.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know about other countries, but it won’t happen anytime soon here in Hong Kong.

      Anyway, it can be argued that social media and the Internet as a whole helped in increasing the exposure of poetry these days. Well, only if people can look beyond the memes and sh*t posts. 😃

      Liked by 1 person

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