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Wallace Stevens, Working Stiff

It's Wallace Stevens Week over at Big Other, and I really enjoyed Amber Sparks' piece on the interplay between Stevens' poetry and his unusual (unusual for major poets, at least) day job - an insurance executive with Hartford.

When he was traveling extensively, checking people’s claims, he was able to see for himself the vast diverse geography, the shifting terrain and weather across the U.S. The weather, temperatures, the shape of the land, became crucial elements in his poetry, in expressing mood and theme, the search for the perfect and something in between. I would also argue that his lack of sentimentality about things like religion, heavenly pursuits --and his focus instead on people, what we do here and now and what kind of place we make for ourselves -– probably comes at least in part from his day to day interactions with people, his interest in the social fabric of society and how we keep it together.

Being a writer/working stiff myself, I admire his ability to juggle the two roles. Though I wonder if his bosses knew he dictated poems to his secretary for her to type up, on company time. I know my employer wouldn't be too pleased at such a prospect - not that we have dictation-and-typing secretaries anyway, of course.

November 15, 2010 in Books | Permalink


From what I've read (and it's been a while), the people at the company didn't know that "Wally" was a poet. I think of Stevens' great theme -- reality/imagination -- in relation to his life -- insurance/poetry.

Posted by: Michael L. at Nov 15, 2010 1:06:04 PM

I think I might have a book of Wallace Stevens poetry somewhere around here if you are interested in him. I remember studying him in school.

Posted by: Julie at Nov 15, 2010 6:40:32 PM