Here, as an introduction, are some representative poems, and brief remarks about the original publications. (The typefaces and layouts in the books are not reproduced here. To see the poems as they appear in print, go to the Home page, where you can open a flipbook or download a pdf.)
The verses in the first two books, The Sum (1958) and Between Matter and Principle (1963), are those of a beginner. No ordinary beginner, but Stephens said he had to unlearn the way he wrote them. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some fine poems . . . .
From The Sum.
From Between Matter and Principle — this poem reflects the feelings of a man raised on the high plains, within sight of the Rockies, upon arriving in Santa Barbara to begin a professorship.
The Heat Lightning poems (1967) are set in summertime on the family farm, a place for which Stephens always had deep affection. It was still being farmed by his brother Dave when these verses were written, though the city of Greeley was approaching.
In Tree Meditation and Others (1970), the poems move into new territory and show increasing flexibility and agility.
Much of the research for White River Poems (1976) was done in 1967-1968, when Stephens spent a year teaching at the University of Denver. This book explores the conflict between a band of Utes and an Indian Agent (and more generally, between the Indians and the growing White population of Colorado). It includes a variety of forms; its extended length is unique in Stephens’s work. He later described it as “an attempt at a tragedy.” The following poem is addressed to a Ute warrior.
In Plain Air (1982): The poet has hit his stride.
The Hendry’s sonnets, a part of In Plain Air, are a sequence above all. But they can be enjoyed singly, too.
This previously unpublished poem was written around the time of In Plain Air.
Water Among the Stones (1987) is a perfect little book, dedicated to John Wilson, Stephens’s former student and colleague. Matilija Creek, where these poems are set, is the headwaters of the Ventura River.
Goodbye Matilija (1992), dedicated to Robyn Bell, also a former student and colleague, is a companion to Water Among the Stones. The following poem is the longest of this sampler; it’s a culmination of Stephens’s thinking about what we are doing here.
Stubble Burning (1988), a chapbook, includes a number of remarkable poems, some of which reappeared in The White Boat and Away from the Road.
Reading The White Boat (1995) is like sipping an old, rare, well-kept wine.
Away from the Road (1998) is Stephens’s final book. The tone is elegiac, the verses expert.
Finally, a poem written after Away from the Road, perhaps the last Stephens wrote. It is a tribute to his wife Fran. Without her, none of this was possible.
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