As part of English teacher Mela Frye’s creative writing class, seven seniors walked the 2.4 mile Wallace Stevens Walk in honor of the poet’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”
After studying some of Stevens’ works, Mrs. Frye’s class walked the path from Stevens’ home in Hartford to his work on Asylum Road. Having never learned to drive, this was a trek the poet made multiple times everyday. “It’s just over 2 miles, and I mean he did this in the rain, the sleet, ice, everyday he did this walk,” Mrs. Frye said.
The path is marked by 13 granite markers, one for each stanza of the poem. Prior to the walk, students studied Stevens and his other works, as well as wrote their own 13 ways of looking at an object of their choice. “The way I was able to recreate my interest in a baseball was not similar at all to Stevens’ comparison to a blackbird, but I learned to appreciate his descriptions,” senior Tim Cotter said.
Each student in the class also chose a stanza to analyze and make a visual representation of before the walk. “For the walk, as we came across a stone that had your stanza on it; you would recite the stanza from memory, explain what you thought it meant, and show your visual interpretation and explain how it relates to the stanza,” senior Jaden Lovelace said.
Mrs. Frye said the physical aspect of this activity helped bring the poem to life. “I think it’s cool to pause with each stanza as you walk along,” she said. “It looks like a simple poem when you first read it. It’s literally 13 different ways of looking at a blackbird as the title says, but it’s a really strange, opaque, challenging poem, and so there’s something nice about just pausing and seeing the words out in the world in whatever nature Asylum provides.”
Despite being lesser known, Stevens is thought by many to be equally as accomplished as the more prominent poets of his time. “We talk a lot about Twain ,but I think sometimes people forget Wallace Stevens, and he’s one of the great Hartford writers so it’s nice to honor him in that way,” Mrs. Frye said. Another aspect of the poem that was highlighted by the walk was that it’s based in our home state. “There’s a shoutout to East Haddam in the poem. It’s just rooted in CT and so there’s something, I think, very moving about experiencing it in that way,” she said.
Jaden said that the walk brought greater meaning to his understanding of the poem. “I was able to experience the long walk from home to work and back home and see the imagery he might have incorporated to the poem as he walked to and from work,” he said. Tim agreed that the walk was interesting and helpful for understanding the imagery of the poem. “Personally, this is one of my favorite poems I have ever read because I find it so interesting that he was able to use the imagery he used and still weave in the plot about the blackbird,” he said.
Overall, Mrs. Frye hopes the poem gave her students a greater appreciation for both poetry and their home. “Every year I hope that they maybe look at their hometown or their capital city a little bit differently because they’ve walked through it in a way that most people don’t,” she said, “and I hope that they see poetry as something that’s living and not just something for textbooks.”