WEST HARTFORD — This year marked the third annual Wallace Stevens Walk for English teacher Mela Frye, who each fall brings her senior poetry class to retrace Wallace’s steps from The Hartford at 690 Asylum Road, where he worked, to his former home at 118 Westerly Terrace. Along the way, 13 granite stones serve as stops, each inscribed with a stanza from his poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”
The 2.4-mile walk is a route frequented more by cars than pedestrians, yet as one looks around there is an astounding amount of beautiful architecture to be observed. One finds themselves imagining what the same street looked like when Wallace himself walked it in the 1920s. This year, in addition to each selecting a stanza to read at one of the stops, students donned t-shirts they had made with the lines written as well. After reading their passage, Frye asked students what made them pick that particular selection. As a wink to the main character of the blackbird, and perhaps even to the Halloween encroaching, each student held a fake blackbird as Frye encouraged them to talk about what emotions their stanza evoked.
Frye said, “I hope that, by students walking in Steven’s footsteps, they might have a new appreciation for both his vision and their own capital city. It’s a really challenging and opaque poem, but it strangely also offers a simplicity that invites you to pause with each stanza—just as the stones on the walk do. Plus, it’s just great to get out of the classroom!”
For the last few years, Frye has taught a poetry vein, specifically one called “Keats to Kanye, where the class moved chronologically from the Romantics to rap, studying one poet a week. This year, however, she shifted the focus to teaching “Word Play: Short Stories & Poems.” The class studies poetry the first half of the semester and short fiction the second half.
Frye said, “I try to expose the students to a wide range of writers, subjects, and styles, and they generate their own work every day in class. They workshop each other’s writing and there’s an emphasis on revision.”
One thing is for sure. Wallace himself would have been honored by the thoughtful sentiment Frye and her students retracing his steps on an overcast Wednesday morning. Not to mention the appreciation felt for the fact that he did the route twice each day.