Last May, WWWW walked to work (and back) with the spirit of Wallace Stevens. Because his poetry is regarded as “extremely technical and thematically complex”, Stevens is sometimes considered a willfully difficult poet. But he is a provocative thinker, as we discovered while trying to parse the meaning of “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” on a bedazzling spring day in Hartford, CT.
In honor of this maximum brilliant poet, we invite you to walk with us. Happy Birthday, Wally.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said that it was important to do something every day that scared you. But I prefer Anna Quindlen’s advice ~ she thinks that we need to surprise ourselves everyday, with surprises that arrive “through happy happenstance, doodles on the to-do list of life.” The latest surprise for WWWW ~ a trip to Hartford, CT.
The best thing about our trip to Hartford? All the belly laughs over thin men and bawdy wenches, the snorting with laughter at our birding skill ~ and oh, the words, the words!
We drove to 118 Westerly Terrace in Hartford, CT and walked to work with Wallace Stevens. Well, kind of. A Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Stevens died in 1955 but the organization, Friends and Enemies of Wallace Stevens, keep his legacy alive though The Wallace Stevens Walk. (A poet with enemies? Business colleagues say he was a bit gruff and would sometimes answer long technical letters with a letter back that tersely stated, “No.”)
We retrace the steps of the insurance guy who had feet in two worlds, making his daily roundtrip, a two-and-a-half mile trek, on neighborhood sidewalks where he composed much of his poetry. The story goes that the businessman/poet was pretty tall, hulking almost, and somewhat overweight. (I’m thinking ~ Really? With all that walking?) He’d be spotted lumbering along, head bowed, then stopping to back up a few paces and repeat his steps. WWWW thinks he must have been working out the tricky rhythm of the words in his mind. In the steely shadow of the blackbird, we follow a series of stones along the twists and turns of concrete. We see what Wallace Stevens saw, through his roving eyes, his thirteen ways of looking.
Trust me, the WWWW touristas got a gray-matter workout. We became one with the birds. In 13 stanzas and 246 words.
We actually walked the series of stones twice, backwards and forwards, pursuing the dream with an interlude at Ambrogio’s Capital View Deli to devour wraps and sandwiches, then have a look at the statue of Alice Cogswell.
C’mon, walk with us up Asylum Avenue. Steven’s poem, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, is engraved on a series of stones beginning here, at the Hartford Insurance Group, where he worked for 39 years. We search the horizon for twenty mountains in vain.
Just behind a black iron fence at Asylum Hill Congregational Church (Mark Twain’s church, by the way) is Stone II.
On a small lawn at a branch of the Hartford Credit Union, we are of four minds as to what Wally is thinking.
Close to the road, right in front of the huge St. Francis Hospital, is Stone V.
There’s plenty of bird noise to prompt an avian investigation. So we hunt for its source. Is it a Rusty Blackbird? a Tri-colored Blackbird? No, wait, wait, it’s a….BirdGuard Pro?!?!?!?
Across from the Connecticut Historical Society Museum is Stone VIII.
Set alongside the driveway of a massive brick mansion behind a black iron gate, this stanza on Stone IX alludes to the Stevensian circles we are going in, trying to decipher the meaning of his words.
Set on a slope in front of yet another manse, across from Steven’s favorite haunt, Elizabeth Park, is Stone X.
Now we’re on Westerly Terrace and nearing “home.” Not far, as the blackbird flies.
After we eye the sky one last time, we hop in the car and ask Siri to find us a coffee shop. We’re so ready for a jolt of Java. So grab yourself a cup and have some fun with this link to a clever interactive version by Edward Picot ~ just another doodle on the to-do list of life. http://www.edwardpicot.com/thirteenways/