In a nod to April as National Poetry Month for the United States and Canada, I celebrate with this post from March, 2015 about an unlikely American poet Wallace Stevens who saw poetry as a second language while the insurance business was his first, or maybe he should have been a prize fighter. Happy National Poetry Month to everyone who writes the poems we love to read!
My name is Sheila, and I’m a word-a-holic. I collect them, I store them, I love them. Occasionally I take them out of my hiding places and admire them again. Pretty does the same thing with words – but hers are published in books she takes from a shelf – books that have beautiful covers and words that are strung together in page after delicious page.
This past week I found a prized addition to my collection – a totally random sighting while I was waiting for Pretty in the lobby of an office building. This jewel was engraved in very small letters on a large plaque as a kind of afterthought following the brief biography of an influential man of medicine.
I was the world in which I walked. – Wallace Stevens
I stared at the words…mulled over the words…and was knocked in the head with a bolt of fresh truth and knowledge.
I was the world in which I walked.
Uh oh, my little voice of reason whispered to me. You ought to be a bit more cautious in your complaints and cynicism and yes, especially your downright negativity about “the world” being this or that because it turns out YOU are your world so that must mean the problems start with YOU.
Well, that was so frightening I decided to find out who Wallace Stevens was to make such an audacious statement of truth. I turned to my trusted friend Wikipedia and got an eyeful. His tagline was Poet, Insurance Executive. He was an American Modernist poet born in Pennsylvania in 1879 to affluent parents. He went to Harvard and the New York School of Law but spent most of his life working for the Hartford insurance company in Connecticut where he was a vice-president until his death in 1955.
He started writing poetry later in life with his critically acclaimed works published after he turned 50. He won the National Book Award for Poetry twice: in 1951 and 1955. And he won a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1955. Gosh, his world in which he walked must have been a bed of roses.
Not so fast, my friend. Wally’s World was quite messy. The woman he married in 1909 had been a saleswoman, a milliner and a stenographer; his family opted to boycott the wedding because she wasn’t quite up to snuff, as we say in Texas. Wallace never spoke to his parents again during his father’s lifetime.
From 1922 – 1940 Mr. Stevens spent a great deal of time in Key West, which became an inspiration for his poetry. That was the good news. The bad news was he didn’t play well with others and had unseemly arguments with Robert Frost whenever they were in Key West at the same time. As for his relationship with Ernest Hemingway in Key West, well apparently their disagreements turned to fisticuffs with Wallace having a broken hand and Hemingway a broken jaw in one of their notorious spats.
So Wallace Stevens was, like most of us, a man who had been at least two worlds in which he walked… so I felt better about my negativity that, to date, has not caused me to come to physical blows with anyone but perhaps needs to be toned down a notch or two with a more regular nod to the positives in which I walk.
You are the world in which you walk. Chew on that for an extra minute.
P.S. One of the more memorable quotes Pretty said to me when we first met was, “I think insurance companies are the scum of the earth.” At the time, I was an insurance agent.
Today perhaps more than ever we really are the world in which we walk – and how carefully we walk in that world affects more than ourselves. When we venture out, we must try to remember the Covid-19 pandemic is not gone simply because we are tired of staying in. Be sensible in your choices, be sensitive to the needs of others.
Stay safe, stay sane and stay tuned.
Happy Legal Anniversary, Pretty
April 24, 2016