Tag Archives: Writing Life

The Same Object, From Many Viewpoints

Creativity challenge: try writing about the same object in at least 13 different ways.

(Wallace Stevens’ poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” is below for inspiration.)

-OR-draw 50 drawings in four hours . . . staying with the same object for as many drawings as possible.

In Experimental Drawing by Robert Kaupelis (1980), one exercise provided is to draw 50 drawings in four hours. He suggests several variations, but remarks that some of his students chose 50 different topics while others tended to draw the same object multiple times, using different media, different styles, different angles.
I have attempted this exercise but keep getting distracted after about ten drawings. . . I do plan to finish this exercise, hopefully this weekend.
Think of how challenging it will be to stick with the same object for more than ten drawings! What I have learned from attempting this exercise, is that even after a few drawings, my style loosens up, I take greater risks, think of unusual solutions prompted by the medium I am using. I drew objects such as stacked pots, a pile of bricks, close up views of tree bark.
I think it would be fun to do the drawings first, and then the writing.
There is a reason why artists work in series, or revisit the same topic throughout a lifetime of work (think of Cezanne’s still lifes, Degas’ dancers, to name some examples that come to mind easily).
Enjoy the Stevens poem. Find other examples–and think about your topics! If you are snowed in, what about looking out the window for inspiration? Or at a fire in the fireplace? Or if you live someplace with sunny skies, wander outside to find your topic in nature, or along the city streets where you live. One thing is certain, you will never look at your surroundings in the same way after completing either or both of these exercises.
Happy drawing, happy writing! Happy Thanksgiving!

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.
I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.
A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.
Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.
O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?
I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.
When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.
At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.
He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.
The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.
Wallace Stevens, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” from The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. Copyright 1954 by Wallace Stevens. Reprinted with the permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird


George Oppen: The Pursuit of Clarity

George Oppen: The Pursuit of Clarity
“Truth is also the pursuit of it.”–George Oppen

More than anything, the best advice there is for aspiring poets is to read. Read, read, read. Read poetry dissimilar to your own, pick up one end of a daisy chain of poets and follow the links to poetry movements, poets whose work will eventually influence your own.

George Oppen (1908-1984) is generally known for his association with the Objectivist group, Modernist poets who collaborated starting in the 1930’s and were influenced by Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams.

Williams’ effort to write in an “American” vernacular is significant, and created openings for poets like Oppen to express ideas that prior to 1920 would not have been expressed. Williams (as contrasted with T.S. Eliot) preferred a colloquial voice and spare, open style with a natural rhythm, with the intention to take poetry “out of the classroom”. Oppen and his contemporaries like Luis Zukofsky and, later, Lorine Niedecker share the philosophy of “looking clearly at the world”. Their work is sincere, intelligent, approachable, honest, but also demonstrates inventiveness that inspired later groups of poets.

(As a parallel in visual art, I suggest studying  Cy Twombly’s work; though he was not a contemporary of these poets the philosophy, style, and approach is similar, as is his allusion to ancient history, expressed with modern sensibility; analogies such as this lead to deeper understanding.)

Oppen’s published work (written between 1934 and 1978) is fiercely individual, human, and skeptical of the values and structures in place during his time. My interpretation of his work is that he is constantly aware and accepting of an overarching unity or “original state of being” while “present in the immediate world”. I see a tension in his work between collaboration and solitary reflection, individual and political/communal, and above all a meta-cognitive awareness (and critique—including self-critique) of conventional reality.

From: Of Being Numerous (1968):


There are things

We live among ‘and to see them

Is to know ourselves’.


Occurrence, a part

Of an infinite series,


The sad marvels;

Of this was told

A tale of our wickedness.

It is not our wickedness.


‘You remember that old town we went to, and we sat in the

ruined window, and we tried to imagine that we belonged to

those times—It is dead and it is not dead, and you cannot

imagine either its life or its death; the earth speaks and the sala-

mander speaks, the Spring comes and only obscures it—‘




Obsessed, bewildered


By the shipwreck

Of the singular


We have chosen the meaning

Of being numerous.




The roots of words

Dim in the subways


There is madness in the number

Of the living

‘A state of matter’

There is nobody here but us chickens




He wants to say

His life is real,

No one can say why


It is not easy to speak


A ferocious mumbling, in public

Of rootless speech




Only that it should be beautiful,

Only that it should be beautiful,


O, beautiful


Red green blue—the wet lips



Or the curl of the white shell


And the beauty of women, the perfect tendons

Under the skin, the perfect life


That can twist in a flood

Of desire


Not truth but each other


The bright, bright skin, her hands wavering

In her incredible need


(and on, there are 40 sections total)

From George Oppen: New Collected Poems, 2008; ed. Michael Davidson.

In short, read! Find the poets who opened new paths, so that now you can write freely. Write in context of the poets who came before, and write Yourself. Oppen’s sincerity, humility, and intelligence is personally inspiring to me. I hope that you will read his work. Coming soon, I will write about a very different poet, Federico Garcia Lorca, one of my uber-inspiring influences.






What exactly is inspiration??

“A work in progress generates its own energy field. You, the artist . . . are pouring love into the work; you are suffusing it with passion and intention and hope. This is serious juju. The universe responds to this. It has no choice.” -Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

When asked what first inspired me to study and write poetry, I tell a story about eight-year-old me absconding with A Concise Treasury of Great Poems (a tattered paperback printed in 1958). Eight-year-old me read Shelley and Stevens and Thomas out loud in a barn, from atop a hay bale to a casual audience of horses. . .

I talk about a high school teacher who assigned for us to choose a famous poet from a list, read several poems, and then emulate the poet. Without that assignment and that dedicated teacher, would I be writing poetry now? Would I have ever “met” Lorca? gained a solid understanding of Emily Dickinson (even though the appreciation came many years later)?

Inspiration, a power that eludes us, seems to always be outside, and there is a magic formula to find or invite it in.

There is one thing I wish I knew when I was getting my degree in poetry: it’s about putting in the work. It’s not about romanticized memories or over-interpreted superstitions. It is definitely not about the stories other people tell you about yourself, and not that other people (or you) label you as a poet. It is putting. in. the work.

I wish I knew this when I was busy making excuses during a 5 year period when I was in a miserable work situation, or afterward when I told myself I didn’t even keep a journal all those years because “I couldn’t”.

The point is to write and not worry too much about what other people think. Learn what works for you, and try to create those conditions as often as possible.

I do thnk it is a writer’s obligation to read other writers, and generally inform oneself about the genre and craft–not to mention learn about a wide variety of subjects outside of one’s own limited immediate “world”. But collective wisdom says to do it because you need to, not to impress others.

Some sources that have helped me include Natalie Goldberg’s books, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, and a book called Free Play by Stephen Nachmanovitch.

The epigraph at the beginning of Free Play is: “Paint as you like, and die happy”(Henry Miller)

And, as Steven Pressfield says: “You are the knight. Resistance is the dragon.”