Friday, October 2, 2009

Career Tracks

Wallace Stevens was born on this day in 1879, in Reading, Pennsylvania. He always wanted to be a writer but then he studied law, as his father urged him to do, and spent his whole working life in the insurance business, eventually becoming an executive for the Hartford. Which is the story of everybody's life. Most of the novelists you read pay their mortgages by teaching. Poets write advertising copy. T. S. Eliot was an editor. Edgar Lee Masters wrote poems while sitting in a courtroom where he was defending a Chicago waitresses' union. For a while in his twenties Allen Ginsberg wrote ads for Ipana toothpaste. We live our lives on separate tracks. Wallace Stevens walked two miles to work every morning and two miles back home, composing his poems along the sidewalks of Hartford. An irreproachable life apart from the incident in Key West when he broke his hand on Ernest Hemingway's jaw. Stevens appears five times in A Book of Ages.

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