Saturday, June 11, 2011

Poetry Prompt #57 – Ways of Looking

Poetry is about looking – it’s about how we see and perceive things, and it's about how we translate our observations and perceptions into written language.  This week, begin "looking" by thinking about things (not feelings or people) that make you happy, inspire you, motivate you, encourage you, elevate your mood, or stir your creativity (something tangible that informs your world in a positive way).

Choose one thing and write a poem about it using the Wallace Stevens poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” for inspiration.

In thirteen short, almost mystifying sections, Stevens “looks” at a blackbird with a kind of “multiplicity of seeing,” a unique “perspectivism” that challenges the imagination to look beyond the immediately observable. Look – really look – at your subject, and write beyond the obvious into deeper layers of meaning.

You may “borrow” from the Stevens title and adapt to something like “Five Ways of Looking at Hydrangeas in Bloom.” Similar is okay, just be sure to make the poem your own. Like Stevens, you may want to organize your poem in sections (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.). Try a different number, make your sections longer or shorter, but remember that each stanza should represent a different angle of “seeing.”

An alternative prompt is to write a parody of the Stevens poem. Use the same structure, but treat your subject with humor rather than with the deep philosophical and observational insights we find in "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird."


  1. Love the Stevens poem! What a great prompt (as always). Thanks, Adele!


  2. Amazing almost Zen-like poem by Stevens about recognizing connections between human and natural life.

    Consider these lines: "That the black bird is involved / In what I know." All nature is involved in what we know!

  3. Yes, bob.fiorellino! There is a definite Zen quality in the inspiration poem. One gets the sense with this prompt that each section might be a haiku or haiku-like poem. It would be interesting to try writing a haiku for each section, each a different "view" of the same thing.

    Thanks, Adele, for another thought-provoking prompt!

    Máire Ó Cathail (Ireland)

  4. The following simile is freighted with meaning, and extremely subtle (even for an academic), though it is not poetic. Charles DeFanti

    "The juvenile sea squirt wanders through the sea searching for a
    suitable rock or hunk of coral to cling to and make its home for life. For this task it has a rudimentary nervous system. When it finds its spot and takes root, it doesn't need its brain anymore so it eats it. It's rather like getting tenure." -- Daniel C. Dennett

  5. bob.fiorellino and Maire,

    Thanks for your comments, which share the link to Eastern sensibility in the inspiration poem and in this prompt!

  6. Thanks, Charlie, for your comment.

    Apropos of nothing in particular, yes?

  7. The following is a poem based somewhat 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. It's pretty much 9 ways of thinking about a 1957 Mercury

    1957 MERCURY

    One Friday night,
    my father drove up
    to the bungalow colony
    with a new-used Mercury.
    If that's the way it's
    going to be, I thought,
    that's the way it's going to be.

    The Mercury replaced
    a '51 Buick Roadmaster
    which couldn't make it
    up hills anymore.

    It had push-button transmission
    in a box on the dashboard
    for left hand control
    in the time of Sputniks
    and Project Mercury.

    Everyone had a rocket
    of their own, 400,000 pounds
    of thrust provided by an air pump
    and faucet water for fuel.
    Ignition. Lift off.

    The rockets just cleared the trees.
    They were red and blue plastic.
    Unbreakable, then, like us.

    One of those summers, I had
    a relationship with Miriam. We'd meet
    in an unrented bungalow and kiss
    behind a folded up mattress.
    This could be a setting for a movie-
    an adulterous affair in the Catskill foothills.
    It's called Jews With The Hots
    For Each Other or something
    with the word betrayed or betrayal in it.

    Part of the script might read:
    Ever notice how Ira,
    the fat horse bookkeeper
    with the whiny son,
    who’s also something of a bully,
    spends too much time
    with his neighbor?
    You see them by the lake.
    They play pinball at the concession.
    He says he's an accountant,
    but I heard he's just a bookkeeper
    who can't pass the CPA exam.

    We'd drive to Shoppers Paradise
    on weekends. The store had everything.
    All that mattered to me were
    the baseball gloves and school supplies.
    I'd stock up.

    We'd walk into town on the railroad tracks,
    parents worried sick. That's the way
    it's going to be with him. They'd envision
    the headline: Honor Student Run Over By Train.
    My parents must have thought
    I wouldn't hear it, or that my foot
    would get caught in a switch track.
    Little confidence in a sensitive kid never helps.

  8. FANTASTIC, bloom306!

    You really captured the idea, and what great subject matter - great details we can all identify with.

    Thanks for posting. I always enjoy your poems.

  9. To Bloom 306

    WOW! Thanks so much for posting.

    A BIG ditto to the comment made by Bob's Mustangs. You really nailed it!

  10. Thank you for the kind comments. I didn't see the Stevens poem as metaphor so much as imaginative leaps. I tried for what seemed like an abundant optimism of the late 1950s, a nostalgia for something very positive and forward looking, mixed up with something unique to personal experience,even gossipy, which few families are immune to.

  11. To bloom306

    Thanks for sharing your poem and your thoughts about writing it. The "psychology" you note is interesting and, in my reckoning, integral to a "period piece" like this.

    Máire Ó Cathail (Ireland)

  12. bloom306!

    Thanks for the memories -- some the same, some different, but all of a time that no longer exists except in our memories: our fathers' cars, shopping in those great old stores, walking along the railroad tracks (a forbidden pleasure back then).


  13. My Winter Walk

    An immense eastern sky red and orange coloured hills the chill
    to loiter among leafless trees and through the sparkling
    lights on the stream a trout fixes her eye
    there to hawk in the air above the loose-limbed stride
    and smile on head held high with happy thoughts and laughter
    and dance and song on this day my winter walk.

    1. Very nice, Lewis! I'm so glad you're exploring the past prompts and finding some of them helpful! All good wishes to you!