I chose Chapter 7 from Writing the Life Poetic because I have always been fascinated by the original poem, 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (by Wallace Stevens) and the many variations it has spawned. I confess, I’ve wanted to do my own take on it but have been a bit too lazy.
These are very short chapters so if you haven’t read this one yet, you have time to go read it and come back. Really. It’s just a couple of pages long. I’ll wait.
What stood out to me in this chapter is the phrase, “Writing poetry is discovering ways of looking.” It’s all about learning to be here, now, and in the moment during days when we are usually busy racing around trying to get more things done in less time. If you are going to look at something in 13 different ways you’re going to stay with it for a while, long enough to slow down and get up close and personal. And while you’re looking at whatever has captured your poetic mind, you may (and will likely) wander away from the original subject. And that’s okay.
I think one of the reasons I love writing poetry is that the nature of it forces me to slow down and be more in the moment.
This chapter advises that when you want to write about a particular subject and you’re feeling stuck that you can utilize one or more of the various ways of “looking” at the subject to jumpstart your poem. I won’t list all the ways of looking. They’re in the book.
I’m not going to try and use all 13 ways of looking that are listed in the book but I’m going to pick one and do a poem around it. I think I’ll go with #2, which says, “If it moves, how does it move? In what direction? Using what energy source? Toward or away from what? If it doesn’t move, describe the quality of its stillness.”
I hope you’ll play along. You can do the same exercise I’m doing, or if you have the book, feel free to pick a different way of looking at your subject.
This is just rough draft play time. No need to stress over this. Have fun!
If you want to be prepared for next week, Laura will be doing chapter 9.
Okay, here’s mine. I would call this more of a poetic thought than a poem but it’s something I might go back and play with at a later date.
Learning to Pain
Thick, like butterscotch pudding,
paint pools on the canvas
until I push the brush
making waves from corner to corner
drops of yellow to drops of orange
a droplet of red, then another,
swirling the bristles until the colors
blend then burst
across the page
like a sunrise
calling for me to come out and play.
Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved
In keeping with finally claiming my poet’s hat, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a poet. I’m going to try and spend a few days thinking out loud about this idea and I hope you’ll think along with me.
On one hand I think that being a poet is as simple as what makes a writer: a writer writes and a poet writes poems. But on the other hand I know it is much more complicated than that. I think it’s a way of looking at the world around you as well as a way of recording what you see. And it is, of course, how you choose to record it. There are many aspects of being a poet but today I’m just thinking of one side of it all, slowing down so you can pay attention.
I think to be a poet you need to be willing to sit still and be. Later you can sit still and think and ponder one word over the other but there needs to be a willingness to just sit and be. And I have trouble with that. I always feel like I need to be racing off to do one thing or another (because I usually do need to be heading off to do one thing or the other) and I short-cut my way through too much of my life.
When I wrote my father poems last April for National Poetry Month I didn’t try to do them in the middle of my busy day. I did them at night, the last thing before bed. My brain was full and tired. I sat on the couch, my laptop on my lap, and thought back over my childhood, forcing myself to remember as much as I could. Then I would pick an age and a scene and I just wrote. The poems came quickly, probably because they have been festering all my life. But I also think it was because I spent some quiet time before trying to write, time where I let myself just be.
If this is what I need to be a poet why is it so hard to give that gift of quiet time to myself?
I don’t know the answer to that. But perhaps, like the acceptance of myself as a poet, it is enough for me to know that is something I need. That it is part of my job description. The trick, I suppose, is how to find those quiet times in the midst of our crazy days.
So what about you? What does it mean to you to be a poet (whether or not you are one?)