Wallace Stevens: A Dual Life as Poet and Insurance Executive
A Biography by Alison Johnson
A Dual Life as Poet and Insurance Executive
by Alison Johnson
Cumberland Press, 2012 357 pages
Hardcover $25 Paperback $15
In this accessible biography filled with fascinating glimpses behind the routine of Wallace Stevens’s daily life, Alison Johnson helps readers to understand the man who was not only one of America’s leading poets, but also the dean of surety bonds in the American insurance world and a vice president at the Hartford.
Alison Johnson’s biography offers extensive insight into the creative processes of this prolific poet, who jotted down ideas and phrases for many of his poems as he walked the two-mile route between his home and his office in downtown Hartford.
In her exploration of the psychology of this private poet, Johnson delves into his great disappointment in the woman he married, examining three bitter poems he wrote about their failed relationship, poems he chose not to include in his books of poetry. Unwilling to divorce his wife, perhaps in part because of her emotional problems, Stevens nevertheless moved beyond his marital frustrations to focus upon the good in his life, finding joy not only in writing poetry, but also in nature, fine food, music, and art, as is clear in the memorable passages Johnson chooses from Stevens’s voluminous, engaging, and witty correspondence.
Although Stevens generally led a well-ordered and quiet life, Johnson also shows it was not without an occasional surprising incident. She relates how the executive, whom colleagues remembered as a man who dressed and spoke in a formal manner, once started a fistfight with Ernest Hemingway in Key West. Biographer Alison Johnson succeeds in presenting a well-rounded and believable portrait of a man whose poetry, as he had so fervently desired, gives pleasure to the world.