Few people embodied Hartford ideals as Wallace Stevens did. The city prides itself on arts and commerce; Mr. Stevens was a major poet and a top insurance executive. He also was an introspective Yankee who kept his literary reputation so much to himself that when he won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1955, a colleague at the office is said to have remarked, "You mean Wally writes poetry?"
How to honor such a man?
In the mid-1990s, Dan Schnaidt moved to Glastonbury when he took a position at Wesleyan University. A Stevens fan, he was surprised to learn there was no public monument to the poet. He wrote an op-ed in The Courant, and people began calling him.
Soon there was a group called the Friends and Enemies of Wallace Stevens. This is a takeoff on an informal group Mr. Stevens himself belonged to, the Friends and Enemies of Modern Music, and also an acknowledgment that the poet could be a difficult and distant character, said former Friends president Christine Palm.
Mr. Schnaidt knew that Mr. Stevens walked to work every day from his home on Westerly Terrace in the West End to the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Co., part of the Hartford Financial Services Group, on Asylum Avenue in Asylum Hill. He would sometimes compose poems in his head and commit them to paper when he got to the office.
Mr. Schnaidt conceived, and the group refined, an idea that has become The Wallace Stevens Walk, which traces Stevens' daily journey from home to work. Along the 2.4-mile route are 13 knee-high granite markers, each with a stanza of Mr. Stevens' well-known poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird."
It has taken 10 years to raise more than $140,000 for the memorial and get the necessary permits and permissions. Other than one large grant from The Hartford, the money has come "in dribs and drabs," said Ms. Palm. But help came from lawyers and architects, the city librarian and the public works director. Local poets and some nationally known poets helped or contributed.
They were inspired by a great idea.
The walk passes landscapes, such as Elizabeth Park, that Mr. Stevens loved. The experience is meditative. The poem, one of Mr. Stevens' best, is haunting and evocative, and it is about motion. Ms. Palm said she hopes people who just come upon a stanza will then go home, look up the poem and thus discover one of Hartford's literary giants.
This is a wonderful addition to the city's cultural landscape; proof, if any were needed, that the city hasn't lost its imagination or its soul.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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