Walking in Wallace Stevens’s Footsteps

By Danny Mitola

Wallace Stevens’s home, 690 Asylum Ave., Hartford, CT. Photo Courtesy of Friends and Enemies of Wallace Stevens

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed that’s different during self-isolation, it’s the amount of people walking, biking, and running on my street. There have certainly been people in the past whose daily routines included these activities, but I’ve noticed many new faces. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise, really. With everyone cooped up inside it seems natural to want to get out of the house (while practicing proper social distancing techniques, of course!). Whether biking, running, walking, starting a garden, or simply going to the park to sit on the grass, people are getting outside more. We can consider it a sort of blessing that the pandemic is taking place during the warm weather months (imagine if this was all happening in the dead of winter!).

I’ve actually appreciated the amount of time people have been spending outdoors, even for simple acts such as walking. Henry David Thoreau, who was a major advocate for walking for walking’s sake, would definitely be proud of the mindfulness everyone is practicing. It got me thinking back to the fall, when my friend Kelly and I partook in a particularly mindful walk: the Wallace Stevens Walk.

A map of the Wallace Stevens Walk. Photo Courtesy of Friends and Enemies of Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens, of course, was a prominent Connecticut poet in the early and mid-20th century who worked at the Hartford Insurance Company. He was famous for never having learned to drive a car. Thus, walking was a necessary act for him to get to and from work. Luckily for him, the walk to work was just over two miles and was anything but strenuous, even in harsher weather. The famous poet would often write poems in his head as he walked to and from work. The Wallace Stevens walk memorializes one of his most famous poems, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”

Along the walk, there are thirteen stones, one for each stanza of the poem. As Kelly and I did last autumn, anyone is welcome to amble along the path Stevens once took every day and enjoy his poem.

One of the stone markers with stanza ten printed on it. Photo courtesy of flickr

With the onset of the pandemic, sadly the UConn Creative Writing Program’s annual Wallace Stevens Poetry reading had to be cancelled. To honor Stevens in absence of this event, I would like to invite everyone to take a stroll in Stevens’s footsteps.* Perhaps, along the way, inspiration might strike, as it did for Stevens all those years ago. And, if you can’t make it down to Hartford to do the formal walk, I encourage everyone to take a walk down their own street and be with their thoughts.

*Any outdoor activity, including the Wallace Stevens Walk, should be done in accordance with Connecticut’s advice on social distancing during the COVID-19 crisis. Information on proper social distancing techniques can be found here. 

Daniel Mitola is the Long River Review poetry panel editor. He can be reached at daniel.mitola@uconn.edu.

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