I should have written about this months ago. Laziness got in the way, as usual. But–ladies and gentlemen!–there is finally, finally, finally a Selected Wallace Stevens, edited by John N. Serio (one of the better academic poetry scholars around today) and coming in at an unusually robust (for a Selected anything) 352 pages, which is nevertheless much slimmer than the 500+ page Collected that was released just before the poet’s death in 1955 and about which little besides the cover and font has changed since.
Granted, you should still own the Collected, because any reader will find at least some fault with the inclusions and excisions made by an editor (even if that editor is the poet him/herself). Whenever you can get more poems by a great poet, do it. (Personally I find it comforting to have every poem in my library arsenal.) But Serio has done a fine job of selecting both canonical and lesser-known pieces. He clearly understood that the stuff in the Norton anthologies hardly begins to encompass or even suggest the immensity of Stevens’ achievement, and so he has included quiet gems like “Botanist on Alp (No. 1)” and “The Bed of Old John Zeller.”
The main appeal of any such selection is that it’s simply easier to lug around. It won’t cause your messenger bag to bulge out weirdly or give you a shoulder sprain. It is an everyday book. And Stevens was a shaman of the everyday. He found and exfoliated the utter weirdness of putatively ordinary things like ferns and glasses of water; that’s why having a volume you can peruse on the bus or in the dentist’s waiting room is so fitting. Hats off to Professor Serio, whose Introduction to the edition you can read here. It’s quite good, although the poems remain the reason for bothering with it.