National Writing Project

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Writing

By: Jane Hancock
Publication: The Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 4
Date: 2004

Summary: Inspired by Wallace Stevens' "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," Jane Hancock, co-director of the UCLA Writing Project, calls on a group of writing project teacher-consultants to come up with thirteen ways of looking at writing. Thirteen of their poems are offered here.

 

Wallace Stevens wrote "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," which is a poem that does just what it says it will do. This form is so much fun to imitate. Pick a subject, any subject. Pick a number, any number.

For some reason, thirteen seems to have a certain power. I wrote "Thirteen Ways of Looking at My Father" for his eighty-fifth birthday, and, of course, he cried. Then my mother wanted one written for her. You can't go wrong with an idea like this.

Last year, I challenged a group of writing project teacher-consultants to come up with thirteen ways of looking at writing. Following are some of the results.

I

Among fifteen drafts
The only one worth finishing
Is this one.

Which is better?
Past or present?
First person or third?
Trash or portfolio?

The words begin in the brain,
Travel down the arm through the hand
And out the fingers to the paper.
Computer or pen.
Who cares?

Writing is work
But how glorious it is when the work is done!

Every writer
Who pens beautiful, thoughtful ideas.
Becomes my muse.

The pen is moving
The words must be coming.

When you think about it
All a writer needs
Is a stub of a pencil
And the backside of paper
Taken from the recycle bin.
We can all afford that.

There is no such thing as Writer's Block
There's only ego block.

Don't climb the ladder of abstraction.
It's dangerous up there.

Jane Hancock
Co-director, UCLA Writing Project,
Los Angeles, California

II

I'd rather clean out closets than chain myself to the task of recording the words I conduct in my head.

Before reaching paper my ideas are idyllic, perfect, effortless, expressed with confidence, masters of the impossible.

Anne Saxon
Third grade teacher, Loyola Village Fine and Performing Arts Magnet, Los Angeles, California

III

Soft, soft, 2-B graphite. Tiny beads build up with each line. A few catch under the heel of my hand leaving a fat charcoal smudge beneath my poem.

Sidnie Myrick
Academic Director, Renaissance Arts Academy, Los Angeles, California

IV

Like pre-gym inertia
Like pre-wedding jitters
Like pre-dive paralysis
We experience that moment just before we write
That moment, just before we realize our joy.

Gayle Kolodny Cole
Instructional Technology Facilitator,
The Center for Early Education, West Hollywood, California

V

New Yorker cartoon reveals home lush with roses
Posted sign pleads "Slow Down!"
And smell the roses.
However, writing demands we stop.

Susan Strauss
Literacy and Leadership Partner, Center X, UCLA, Los Angeles, California

VI

This note is riten
By Eli
All by himself
Wrote Eli.

Kim Labinger
Fourth grade teacher, Thomas Edison Elementary School, Glendale, California

VII

Before I sat down to write, I was of three minds
Like a stoplight at an intersection
Red, caution, go
And so, I went to my table to begin my novel—or my poem
Depending on the turn the thing took.

Pat Abrams
Co-chair, Department of English, Fairfax High School, Los Angeles, California

VIII

A blank page, like tabula rasa
Clean slate.
Then an idea, a phrase.
Inspiration
Suddenly the abstract becomes tangible
The writer is validated.

Erik Travis
English teacher, Fairfax High School, Los Angeles, California

IX

"And now we're going to write a rough draft. Take your time. Don't rush! You have all period." Johnny shouts, "I'm finished!" It's only been fifteen minutes.

Curt Mortenson
English teacher, Culver City High School, Culver City, California

X

When I write about you
I know you better.
When I write about me
I become more real.

Faye Peitzman
Director, UCLA Writing Project, and Faculty Advisor, UCLA Teacher Education Program, Los Angeles, California

XI

Inspiration strikes like lightning in a clear sky.
Courage, like the tide, follows cycles of the moon.
Time, like food in third world countries and parts of LA,
Winds up borrowed or lost.
Writing, like the blackbird's song and trees falling in the forest,
Only truly heard by children.

Susan Strauss
Literacy and Leadership Partner, Center X, UCLA, Los Angeles, California

XII

One beautiful poem
That's all you need
One
One to make you cry
One to lighten your heart
One to enclose within your nightshirt next to your chest
As you fall peacefully into your sleep.

Jan Montes
University Field Supervisor, UCLA Teacher Education Program, Los Angeles, California

XIII

Among stacks and stacks of snowy white vellum
My ego block speaks to me
Until I silence it
With small twittering sounds that chirp, caroling from my heart

Pat Abrams
Co-chair, Department of English, Fairfax High School, Los Angeles, California

About the Author Jane Hancock is the co-director of the UCLA Writing Project, California. She credits the UCLA Writing Project with making her a writer. Her goal, as co-director, is to do the same for all the teachers and students with whom she works. She belongs to two writing clubs, which meet monthly, and enjoys writing about her family, her travels, and her teaching. All of the teacher-writers featured in this piece are teacher-consultants with the UCLA Writing Project.

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