Thirteen Ways of Looking at New York (Happy Birthday, Wallace Stevens)

If social media has taught me one thing about life, it’s to reaffirm how ordinary I am.

Which is why one of my favorite writers is Wallace Stevens, an ordinary life insurance executive who wrote some of the world’s most extraordinary poems.

It’s his 142nd birthday today.

I love the fact that Stevens spent the bulk of his career as an executive for the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company. He used to scribble notes for poems on his walk to work every day in Connecticut. I often do the same while sitting in the back seat of a New Jersey Transit bus.

Often, I also take cell phone photos. So during the pandemic I took paired some of my images of New York with haikus.

I thought this was unique. But then, as I’ve learned, I’m never unique.

Some quick Internet research shows that The New York Times asked readers to write haikus about the city and received thousands of submissions for National Poetry Month in April 2014. This was subsequently turned into a book.

Even more recently, in April 2021, Peter C. Goldmark Jr. (retired president of the Rockefeller Foundation and executive director for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey) published “Haikus for New York City,” featuring illustrations by his daughter.

Still, in the spirit of the birthday poet — who lived in New York from 1900 to 1916 and who, like me, always loved the city… I offer this tribute to him today.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at New York During Pandemic

(With apologies to poet Wallace Stevens. Photos/haiku, mine) I

Stars on the ceiling.

Passing souls on marble floors.

Virus fills the air.

II

Cotton candy skies.

42nd Street in March.

Clouds, before the storm.

III

Buildings filled with light.

The Queensboro Bridge in pearls.

Cars hasting nowhere.

IV

Found hidden in Queens.

New York in miniature,

still larger than life.

V (after E.B. White)

New York compresses

all life into a small space,

adds music. A poem.

VI

Greetings from Ghost Town.

Shadows among the living.

Invisible. Times Square.

VII

Fifth Avenue saints.

The enemies of darkness

gathering at dusk.

VIII

Fountains, flags, and lights.

“Anarchist Jurisdiction,”

a riot of hope.

IX

East 43rd Street.

Relentless, billowing steam

stirs man’s shuffling pace.

X

Fish out of water.

Whimsy turns the dim world pink.

Park Avenue art.

XI

Buildings watch me walk.

I look up and catch their stare.

Nosy, jealous glass.

XII

Unlit Christmas tree,

an emperor without clothes,

awaits the spotlight.

XIII

Forgotten men find

a marble sanctuary

on beds of cardboard.

Originally published at http://varettoni.blogspot.com.

Posting here about writing, books, tech, family, baseball. More about me at bvarcommunications.com