I’m back in Williamsburg from my summer of reading and research! In mid-July I left by train for New Haven, both for Yale’s Beinecke Library and for Wallace Stevens’ attention to the city in his work. The Beinecke was beautiful, and held some last batch cuts from the book of Stevens’ letters that Holly Stevens edited in 1966, as well as drafts of early poetry which his landlady at 135 Farmington Avenue (where he lived in the early years of his career at the Hartford) fished from the trash. Later, sitting in the city park at dusk, I felt more connected to Stevens than ever before, the cadences of his poem “An Ordinary Evening in New Haven” running through my head—
“The instinct for heaven had its counterpart:
The instinct for earth, for New Haven, for his room,
The gay tournamonde as of a single world
In which he is and as and is are one.”
From there I went on to Hartford, where Stevens lived from 1916 to his death in 1955, and took the Wallace Stevens Walk, which traces the two-mile route he traced daily from home to work in the mornings and back again at night. One late afternoon I started at 690 Asylum Avenue, home of the Hartford Insurance and Indemnity Company, and walked to his home at 118 Westerly Terrace.
Soon I was in Cambridge to research at Harvard’s Houghton Library—where I found a Christmas card Stevens made his friend José Rodríguez Feo for Christmas in 1950, and to which he posted a picture of Goofy in a star hat, à la Fantasia—and after that in Amherst, MA to view the Special Collections of UMass Amherst, which held several of the books most influential to Stevens. My last stop on this trip was New York—not alone important to Stevens as a city, but also home to more of his archival material in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library.
A couple weeks later, I flew to Chicago to spend some time at the University of Chicago’s Regenstein Library, which holds the Poetry magazine archives and Stevens’ letters to Poetry‘s founder Harriet Monroe.
There, and throughout my trip, I cemented an impression I had always suspected of Stevens—of his kindnesses, of small but altering actions. An anonymous (and very large for its time) donation to Poetry accompanying an open contribution—in his jagged script, $50, and then: “also an anonymous gift of $500, not to be announced. Good luck—Wallace Stevens” [see photo]. Kind responses to editor after editor, poems in envelopes, his chickenscratched words. In his books at UMass Amherst, wavy lines beside passages, some horizontal hatchings, check marks, underlinings through which I could almost feel his fingertips in the paper, behind his privacy and dark gray suit; his softness, all poetry.