Max Stephan’s primary field of study is focused on investigating poet Mary Oliver’s writing and the metamorphosis of voice through the years: alterations of text, style, complexity, purpose, tone, and audience(s). With more in-depth studies of less-explored earlier work, his research is focused on pinpointing the underlying personal experiences as well as the developmental growth which caused Oliver to evolve into the celebrated poet known today.

Arguably the most critical approach to Oliver’s work, genetic criticism explores the interpretive possibilities of textual history, opening new doors to unexplored criticism. Stephan’s studies focus on the development of a variorum of editing prior to poems’ publication(s). The chief concern of genetic criticism is not the “final” text, but the reconstruction and analysis of the writing process. The research consists of a systematic archaeological gathering of Oliver’s work (notes, drafts, manuscripts, typescripts, proofs, and correspondence). Stephan’s ever-growing compilation of artifacts (500+) is the largest private collection of its kind nationwide.

Work in Progress:

  1. Annotated bibliography of Oliver’s work
    Content includes both works by, and about, Oliver (contributions to periodicals, scholarly reviews, dissertations, etc.). To date, no scholarly bibliography of Oliver’s work has been published. The crucial questions asked include:
  • Changes in styles and/or formats? If so, how, why, and by whom?
  • Textual corrections and/or editing? If so, how, why, and by whom?
  • Do any errors exist? If so, had they been overlooked, intentionally left uncorrected in order to match the original text, or corrected?
  • Do alterations in text change the line count? Stanza count? Shape? Visual appearance?
  • Had lines been broken (by editors) due to margin, unintentionally reshaping a poem’s format or visual appearance?
  • Similar to prior questions, do such alterations change the line count? Stanza count? Shape? Visual appearance?
  • Had spelling alterations taken place based on British or American English? (Oliver’s first collection, as well as several journal publications, were first printed in Britain, followed by a second print in the United States.)
  1. Manuscript of poems that do not appear in any collections/books
    A collection which constitutes the research, identification, and analysis of work written and published by Oliver in various periodicals, but not deemed fit for any published collection/book. This work-in-progress is parallel with the development of the annotated bibliography. Originally anticipating only a few “lost” poems, to my surprise this field is ever growing, and may develop into a publication itself.
  2. Data base of Oliver’s work
    Content includes all work written by Oliver. Stephan’s research has identified significant findings, strengthening the importance of such a collection. Discoveries include numerous poems with the same title; titles which have been altered between publications; poems excluded from collections, etc.