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Enemies Of Wallace Stevens, Unite!
Laurence Cohen

September 22 2006

There are very few of us left. We live in tiny underground bunkers and only come out when the sun goes down.

Even when we do make an appearance, we're careful. A furrowed brow, a tight, unhappy smile, the secret handshake. We take comfort in simply knowing that we exist, even as we acknowledge the frailty of our existence.

We are the enemies of Wallace Stevens.

Oh, yes, yes, you say, we know all about you, because there is this wonderful organization called "The Hartford Friends and Enemies of Wallace Stevens," which gets together to have a few drinks and pay tribute to the greatness of Wallace Stevens.

But, you see, that's the problem. Do you actually know any enemies of Wallace Stevens, the undeservedly famous Hartford poet? Have you ever seen a torchlight protest parade down Main Street by the enemies of Wallace Stevens? No, of course not.

What happens is that the friends of Wallace Stevens invite the enemies of Wallace Stevens to those parties and galas and stuff, often in cahoots with the Hartford Public Library.

The enemies are liquored up, overfed, and then a computer chip is covertly put in their brains, so that they now think that the poetry of Wallace Stevens is actually wonderful or interesting or coherent - or that it rhymes.

The only thing more rare on the Hartford city streets than enemies of Wallace Stevens is the occasional Republican. When an enemy of Wallace Stevens was recently sighted near the library, the Hartford library and the Friends & Enemies planned another party, a "birthday bash," to be held Oct. 7 at the library - in the hopes that the enemy would come to the party and be captured and transformed.

I am begging you, fellow patriots, do not attend the Wallace Stevens birthday bash. Be warned all ye who enter there. If you go, you will come out a few hours later, talking about, as one Stevens scholar put it, "the vulgar personal life of the world that interferes with a clear and simple confrontation between imagination and reality."

Do you want to sound like that? Do you want to be responsible for tricking unsuspecting friends and family into actually trying to read a Wallace Stevens poem? I think not.

Wallace Stevens joined the old Hartford Accident and Indemnity Co. in 1916 - and, armed with his law degree, eventually rose to head some murky, sinister surety bond unit that left him plenty of time to roam the halls of what is now Hartford Financial Services, poking his head into offices and asking: "Would you like to hear one of my poems?"

The shrieks of terror could be heard all the way across town to the Travelers Tower, which thanked its lucky stars that it avoided hiring the crazy bond attorney-poet guy.

Stevens won a Pulitzer Prize for his poetry, in the category of "Most Obtuse Stuff We Ever Read that Doesn't Even Rhyme or Anything." It was a proud moment for Hartford, for his family, and for the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Co., known for its famous motto: "We're the Hartford, buy a bond; it's as if you waved a magic wand." That was as close as Stevens ever came to rhyming, or making sense.

It was Stevens who wrote, in `The Green Plant," that "the effete vocabulary of summer; No longer says anything." And who would know better than him?

His best poem, as enemies of Wallace Stevens know only too well, was "The Ultimate Poem is Abstract." I won't bother quoting from it. You wouldn't understand. No one does. It's too, you know, abstract.

He knew the truth about himself. In his "Of the Surface of Things," he wrote: "In my room, the world is beyond my understanding." Yeah, we know. And your poetry is beyond our understanding.

It's not as if you all haven't been warned. Stevens is "complex" and "deep" and "subtle." In other words, run, before it's too late. In his book on Stevens, published in 1968, Central Connecticut State College professor William Burney had this to say: "It is my experience that college students, for instance, have difficulty with Stevens on this most elementary level: just what is he saying?"

Join us in our noble battle. Be an enemy of Wallace Stevens.

Laurence D. Cohen is a public policy consultant who served as special assistant to former Gov. John G. Rowland. His column appears every Friday. He can be reached at cohencolumn@aol.com.

Copyright 2006, Hartford Courant