Tuesday, May 10, 2011

26 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

Do you know the famous Wallace Stevens poem, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird?  It's one of my favorites.  I love it.  And even more than I love reading it, I love teaching it.  Because then my class and I get to write our own version of the poem!

Here's the original:

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
                                   Wallace Stevens

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.

Beautiful, right?  And here is the version my poetry class at San Quentin wrote last week (we each wrote a few stanzas; I picked 13 and put them in a random-ish order):

Thirteen (More) Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (after Wallace Stevens)
                                                San Quentin H-Unit Poetry Class, May 2011
The rocks begin to move
from the earthquake, but
the blackbird sits firm on top
of the biggest rock.

Spring awaits a young blackbird
who patiently survived
his first Ohio winter.

The blackbird lifts
his wings in greeting:
all rise.

I see through the eyes
of the blackbird as the sun sets
over sea like an orange
at the edge of a glass bowl.

The blackbird speaks
a language I don’t know,
but I prefer inference

As the sun rises,
so does the blackbird
on its prey.

Blackbird flies by, headed south.
No direction toward the moon.
Unique-colored and dreamed of.

Sailing through the sky
at neutral pace, the blackbird
continues to fly.

Snow-encrusted branches
shelter a solitary nest
of a pair of blackbirds
longing for winter’s icy grip
to relinquish its hold.

My pupils somersault
tracking the blackbird.

I need not know
of the blackbird’s song
for I have not a song of my own.

There are many different blackbirds
in this part of town.
But I never see them.

Unseen at night, the blackbird
quiet while in flight, brave
jet-speed wings flap aloud.

Pretty incredible, huh?  I'm so proud of these guys, many of whom had never written a poem before January.  


shopgirl said...

Your students are lucky to have such a great teacher Claire!

Wishing you a wonderful day! Reese

Megan said...

I had never read this poem, poetry is my weakness when it comes to literature. I wish I had you to teach me more, I am sure reading your blog will expose me to more and more, I look forward to it.

Diana Mieczan said...

Oh so very beautiful and your students are totally brilliant! Have a lovely morning, sweetie

Ps: I’m hosting a beautiful dress GIVEAWAY later today! Just in time for summer!

Meredith said...

How amazing. I kept trying to pick a favorite stanza and I just couldn't. They're all so wonderful! I love that you write about this, I always look forward to seeing what your SQ students are up to!

Marz said...

This is amazing Claire. YOU are amazing! How wonderful that your SQ students are learning poetry thanks to you. And you are also teaching me because I had never heard about this poem until just now :) It's hard picking a favourite stanza, but I think I love V of the original best and VII out of your student's poems :) Just beautiful!!!

Jax said...

That is so incredibly moving! I admire you for working with your students at San Quentin and for the strides they've made under your leadership. Girl, you rock. Just plain and simple.

Leeann @ Join the Gossip said...

You should be proud of yourself, too! Becuase you are a big part of them writing!! Great teacher :)

Bonnie said...

I love Wallace Stevens.
And this is an amazing post.
As an English grad student, I totally appreciate this.

Twitter: @GlamKitten88

Gracie said...

I haven't read this before but it's beautiful. And wow your class is amazing. You must be proud. I still think you are a wonderful teacher and helping them to write a poetry. x

Tiffany said...

This is awesome! You are changing lives in your class! Way to go!


Sarah said...

This is an amazing post. I love the line "It was evening all afternoon." I know exactly those types of winter days. It's amazing that you teach poetry at San Quentin. I don't think that I knew that before (or that you'd lived in New Orleans). That sounds like such a rewarding job to have. It's really inspiring that you are so passionate about helping people and teaching, too. Have a great weekend!

Krystal said...

wow, that was really really cool to read...it kind of amazed me!

Belly B said...

This is such a beautiful poem! :')

<3 Belly B

Lori said...

Beautiful! :)

H. Gillham said...

Very incredible.

Is proud of you. I just grin when I hear your stories of the classroom.

Teach on, dear one.