Friday, January 06, 2006

An Influx of Poets

I went out today and bought myself a copy of The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford. It’s a nice new paperback edition just published in September. (The book was originally published in 1969, and it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1970.) I’m beginning at the end with the very last story titled “An Influx of Poets.” This story appears in book form for the first time in this collection, having been carved out of a chapter in a novel titled The Parliament of Women which Stafford worked on for twenty-four years but never finished. I’ve always been curious about that unfinished novel and I’m looking forward to getting a glimpse. I’ll report in after I’ve read it. In the meantime, let me leave you with the opening paragraph which already has me hooked:

That awful summer! Every poet in America came to stay with us. It was the first summer after the war, when people once again had gasoline and could go where they liked, and all those poets came to our house in Maine and stayed for weeks at a stretch, bringing wives or mistresses with whom they quarrelled, and complaining so vividly about the wives and mistresses they’d left, or had been left by, that the discards were real presences, swelling the ranks, stretching the house, my house (my very own, my first and very own), to its seams. At night, after supper, they’d read from their own works until four o’clock in the morning, drinking Cuba Libres. They never listened to one another; they were preoccupied with waiting for their turn. And then I’d have to stay up and clear out the living room after they went soddenly to bed -- sodden but not too far gone to lose their conceit. And then all day I'd cook and wash the dishes and chop the ice and weed the garden and type my husband's poems and quarrel with him.

(“An Influx of Poets” in The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford at page 465.)


Booklad said...

Jean Stafford is a wonderful writer. I came to her via the poet Robert Lowell who was married to her from 1940 to 1948. The house in Maine that she refers to is the same one Lowell writes about in at least one of his poems (the title escapes me). She did well to leave him when she did because he went crazy a few years later and never fully recovered, although his poetry improved. I hope you enjoy the Stafford book and I look forward to your review.

R J Keefe said...

It's great to know that these stories are back in print. I recently re-read "In the Zoo" with great pleasure. My 1992 Texas reprint doesn't include "Influx of Poets," which makes the new volume even more tempting. Query: Why no LoA edition?

Kate S. said...


I also found Stafford through Lowell. The first mention of her that I came across was in a marvellous book titled The Poets in Their Youth: A Memoir which is essentially a group biography of John Berryman, Robert Lowell, Randall Jarrell, and Delmore Schwartz. The author, Eileen Simpson, was married to John Berryman early on and knew all of her subjects personally. The chief thing that I have to thank that book for was that it led me to Delmore Schwartz whose poems and stories I admire immensely. But it also prompted me to read more by and about Lowell and the others and it was after reading an individual biography of Lowell that I sought out Stafford's work. I know a lot of purists think that litarary biographies are a distraction from the work of their subjects. But I have always found that a good literary biography not only leads me back to the work of the primary subject but it often also serves as a vehicle for discovery of the work of members of the supporting cast some of whom I might never have heard of otherwise.

R.J. Keefe,

I wondered when "An Influx of Poets" had been added to the Collected Stories. I knew it couldn't have been included in the first edition since it didn't exist as a story until 1978 when it was transformed from its earlier incarnation as a book chapter for publication in The New Yorker. Now I realize that in trumpeting the first appearance of the story in book form, the publishers mean in this particular edition. Joyce Carol Oates (who wrote the introduction to the new edition) once described "An Influx of Poets" as "one of [Stafford's] most powerful short stories." Definitely a selling point for the serious Stafford fan!