The Blue Screen

The Blue Screen


An Homage to Wallace Stevens and the Actual World

In studying Wallace Stevens in Professor Lisa Goldfarb’s Spring 2020 Interdisciplinary Seminar, “Modern Poetry and the Actual World,” I have found Stevens’s investigation of the imagination to be most compelling. Both in his essays and his poems, his invitation to more clearly see not only the world but the mind has a thrilling starkness. His enigmatic images and metaphors, his bold formalism, and the paradox of aloneness and fullness that his poems hold have all made me experience a vivid connection between poetry and the life that is being lived.

In keeping with the theme of the seminar, which investigates the poet’s relationship to the actual world, I’ve written a poem after an experience I had in class when we turned to study “The Man with the Blue Guitar.” Our assignment was to identify our favorite sections of the poem and be prepared to speak about them, and as each of us were called on, we announced which canto we were addressing and spoke about what we’d seen. Watching the screen, where our class was taking place remotely via Zoom, I flashed on the translation of the Italian word stanza: “room.” It seemed to me that each of us were in our own rooms, which were represented in our individual squares, and somehow the sum of our parts comprised the poem. Though we’re separated by the pandemic, in these Zoom meetings, there is also an intimacy that allows us to visit each other at home, and a different search for connection that is less easily absorbed by the various distractions of day-to-day life. It feels like an important practice to observe our own imaginations “pressing back against reality,” which Stevens sites as a fundamental way of surviving the violence of the world in his essay, “The Noble Rider and the Sounds of Words.”1

I remembered another poem by Wallace Stevens, one that we didn’t read in class, “Blanche McCarthy.” In that poem Stevens urges the reader to “Look in the terrible mirror of the sky/ And not in this dead glass,” presumably a mirror.2 That glass today might be read as a computer screen. None of us could have imagined that we’d be completing class in a virtual format, but Zoom worked for us. It has kept us just tethered enough to our usual way of life. But there is also vast space beyond the screen in which we might feel into something new that is emerging. In “Effects of Analogy” Stevens says:

The poet is constantly concerned with two theories. One relates to the imagination as a power within him not so much to destroy reality at will as to put it to his own uses. He comes to feel that his imagination is not wholly his own but that it may be part of a larger, much more potent imagination, which it is his affair to try to get at.3

Attempting to step into the space of Stevens’s imagination, I’ve followed his use of repetition, irregular rhyming and whimsical imagery to explore this peculiar moment and attempt to glimpse at what it connects us to.


The Blue Screen

I gaze at the blue screen—
Searching the refracted light,
A turning kaleidoscope,
Seasons offering themselves to the eye.

These popcorn thumbnails,
Say they are stanzas
Or call them cantos,
Populations appearing in summer light,

Messy rooms, family foundations, fragments of a something—
A popcorn symphony.
Note that you were struck by four,
Pop, now fifteen

Abiding with its yellow outline
Abiding with its sunny sky.
Eighteen different skies,
Eighteen versions of the sky,

A rearranging over time,
A whirring, waking around we go,
Eye told you so
And so you go.

Now nine then three,
Negotiation between the bookcase and the pillows,
Try to follow the thread with your bedhead,
It unravels into something else, all-together.

For five I worry, who looks alone;
Somewhere you were never meant to be,
Plans diverted to this one room home,
Occupying a square within a square.

But then! I detect a love affair!
A smile, seems apropos of nothing.
Two smiles, no, one,
Breaking out through the structure of the grid.

I’m sure I see an invisible thing.
Or am I just imagining?
Adding? Subtracting?
Making assumptions about the spring?

Ah, time lapse beauty,
Gone before the beauty sets,
Beautiful in that broad bounty,
That broad belly of terrible time.

Screen gone blank now
Squares receding into white,
A shaky reception missing the mark.
The missing mark. So now what?

I do as Blanche does,
Turn now outside,
Past the fragile glass
I, made of glass,

Look into that white sky, a nano-glimpse
Before it’s blue, the broadest blue
Screen with clouds, cloud beings
Floating in some space beyond the place

Zooming now past the glossy
Screen, bending not breaking,
Seeing specters of another orientation
Rearranged, unchanged sky.


  1. Wallace Stevens, “The Noble Rider and the Sounds of Words,” The Necessary Angel, 36.
  2. Wallace Stevens, “Blanche McCarthy,” 1-2.
  3. The Necessary Angel, “Effects of Analogy,” The Necessary Angel, 115.
Back to Top