Stepanchev, Stephen

views updated


Nationality: American. Born: Mokrin, Yugoslavia, 30 January 1915; immigrated to the United States, 1922; naturalized, 1938. Education: University of Chicago, A.B. 1937 (Phi Beta Kappa), M.A. 1938; New York University, Ph.D. 1950. Military Service: U.S. Army, 1941–45; Bronze Star. Career: Instructor in English, Purdue University, Lafayette, Indiana, 1938–41; New York University, 1946–47, 1948–49; member of the English department, 1949–64, and professor of English, Queens College, Flushing, New York, 1964–85. Fulbright professor of American literature, University of Copenhagen, spring 1957. Awards: Society of Midland Authors prize (Poetry, Chicago), 1937; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1968; Oscar Blumental prize (Poetry, Chicago), 1995; Poet Laureate of the Borough of Queens, New York City, 1997–2000. Address: 140–60 Beech Avenue, Apartment 3C, Flushing, New York 11355, U.S.A.



Three Priests in April. Baltimore, Contemporary Poetry, 1956.

Spring in the Harbor. Flushing, New York, Amity Press, 1967.

Vietnam. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1968.

A Man Running in the Rain. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1969.

The Mind. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1972.

The Mad Bomber. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1972.

Mining the Darkness. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1975.

Medusa and Others. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1975.

The Dove in the Acacia (bilingual edition, translation by Rasa Popov). Vrsac, Yugoslavia, KOV, 1977.

What I Own. Santa Barbara, California, Black Sparrow Press, 1978.

Descent. Roslyn, New York, Stone House Press, 1988.

Seven Horizons. Washington, D.C., Orchises Press, 1997.


Dreiser among the Critics: A Study of American Reactions to the Work of a Literary Naturalist, 1900–1949. Folcroft, Pennsylvania, Folcroft Library Editions, 1972.

American Poetry since 1945: A Critical Survey. New York, Harper, 1965.

The Walt Whitman Lectures, with John Tytell. Flushing, New York, Friends of the Queens College Library, 1993.

Editor, The People's College on the Hill: Fifty Years at Queens College, 1937–1987. Flushing, New York, Queens College Press, 1990.


Critical Study: In Poetry, CLXV(3), December 1994.

*  *  *

A New York poet-professor, Stephen Stepanchev writes lucid, urbane poems that depict dreams or cityscapes, remember parents or childhood, recount quarrels with a lover, or observe a fellow victim of life with sympathy. Mostly they are first-person poems, and usually the speaker is a wry, detached observer: "The telephone squatted all day / In the equilibrium of indifference. / No one called that wrong number, / Me, poking among dead men's words" ("A Visit"). The poems rely for their energy on a rapid montage of images rendered in a succession of simple declarative sentences without much rhythmic intensity. (Like much contemporary image-centered poetry, they might well be translations.) The images are usually clever, seldom memorable. "November withdraws like a junkie," he writes, or "I was of two minds, like traffic," or "I live in the rice paddies of my desperation." One registers the effect, admires the invention, and passes on unmoved. Sometimes one cannot even admire; "Yesterday I poured gasoline all over myself / And flamed like a monk / To move you" seems both lurid and unpleasantly exploitative.

Still, the general effect is an agreeable one, well represented by the following complete poem, from The Mad Bomber, called "In the Gallery":

Repetition makes a garden,
But these roses are, clearly, unemployed.
Nature does so much better than this painter
I am expected to admire. My attention
Wanders to a gallery guest whose hair
Is a lair of lights, whose face dreams
Like a wheat field, and whose eyes glisten
With tears induced by her contact lenses.
I mix her in my martini and drink
Her down at the window overlooking the East
River, where the moon is breaking up in shivers.

—Seamus Cooney