My new favorite poet: A.E. Stallings

My new favorite poet: A.E. Stallings

A.E. Stallings. I kept stumbling upon her poems online (mostly thanks to my friend the poet Sally Thomas who is perhaps Stallings’ biggest booster). Every one I have found and picked up like a treasure. This. . . this. . . this . . . this. . .

Gradually I came to recognize her name, her voice. To thrill when I discovered a new one. So one day I put her books on my wishlist, hoping to maybe get one as a present, or to buy one for myself one of these days when I’ve got a little extra money to spend.

On yet another day I finally thought to look to see if I could find any of her books at the library. And thanks to interlibrary loan a couple of them finally made their way to me and I devoured them. Hapax and Olives, two slim volumes. Just the size I love. i’m always so tempted by Complete Works and Selected poems— look they have everything! Nothing left out. But the slim volumes feel more intimate, carefully curated, like a formal garden. You can linger without feeling rushed by the weight of too many words. You can read one of them from cover to cover in the space of a few days.

Stallings’ are the kind of poems that go down easy at first, not too difficult, not too convoluted, not too wordy. Just right. Seemingly easy, but the more you look the more you see how deep they really are.

Stallings is a classicist and has published translations of Lucretius and Hesiod. (Here’s a translation of Plutarch’s Anecdotes from Ancient Greece ) And her poetry has a formalism that is informed by classical poetry. She writes sonnets and villanelles and even limericks. She rhymes and plays with meter. She plays with words, with classical images and allusions. But she also writes about modern life. Especially about relationships. 

She has a way with extended metaphor that feels very much influenced by Homer’s epic simile. Like the poem “Explaining an Affinity for Bats” which is an extended metaphor for the poet and the process of writing poetry. “That they are only glimpsed in silhouette, / And seem something else at first. . . “ She doesn’t tell you directly what the comparison is, it isn’t a simile, but it’s not a difficult riddle or a cipher, it’s pretty straightforward. And yet it’s not obvious in the sense that it doesn’t feel fresh or clever. “Who find their way by calling into darkness / To hear their voices bounce off the shape of things.” And it reminds me a bit of Randall Jarrell’s delightful little tale, The Bat Poet.

Like I said, so far I have got two volumes of her poetry from the library, and I’m hoping to acquire copies of both of them for myself because they are both delightful.

It’s hard to write about an entire volume of poetry. I want to mention almost every poem by name and to delve into them all, each one a tiny world to which I could devote an entire essay and still not have said all there is to say. But I think I’ll try give it a go. I hope to post my reviews of both Hapax and Olives very soon. Meanwhile, check out more Stallings at Poetry Foundation.

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  • In her new book, LIKE, there’s a marvelous epic simile about going to get her hair colored in the winter. It’s just . . . perfect.

    I know a lot of poets who write technically perfect formal poems. I know very, very few poets who write technically perfect formal poems that are also pitch-perfect in terms of their humanity and their assimilation of large truths into the small truths of human experience. Alicia Stallings is really sui generis in her gift for this.

  • I just finished reading Olives and enjoyed it tremendously! Like is on my Christmas list. I think Stallings has struck a wonderful balance in her poetry between an accessible surface level and greater depths underneath. She’s truly a wonderful poet.