Friday, February 03, 2006

Poetry revisited


It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

--from Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens

Last spring, I wrote about an out-of-print book of poetry I wanted to get my hands on (The Art of Love by Kenneth Koch.) I read it when I was in college, and wanted to revisit it. Just before Christmas (very convenient for Santa), The Collected Poems of Kenneth Koch was released, and The Art of Love was included. Thank you, Alfred A. Knopf, and Terry.

Aside from being a prolific poet, Koch was also a teacher, and he wrote several wonderful books about teaching children and adults to write and read poetry. One of his techniques for teaching children was to present them with a poem, and have them imitate it, and one of the poems he used was Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.

I've imitated this poem myself, writing several short haiku-like stanzas about a single topic. At some time in the last two years, I must have been thinking about such a poem at work, because today, when I sorted through some old papers at my desk, I ran across a copy of Stevens's poem I had printed out for reference.

My favorite stanza has always been IV: A man and a woman/Are one./A man and a woman and a blackbird/Are one. But today, with winter weather returning after a week of false spring, the last stanza caught my attention. Even though I was in a downtown office building, in my mind, I could see the color of the sky and feel the temperature against my face. I was surprised to learn that I understand how it can be "snowing" and "going to snow" at the same time.

The moral is, don't be afraid to revisit a poem. You may find something you didn't realize was there before.

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