Suspend Your Disbelief

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Get Writing: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

Lake Kivu, here I come

I love perspective shifts. The British mini-series “Collision” does this with a giant car accident on the A12 highway outside London. I’m just now embroiled in Colum McCann’s gorgeous Let the Great World Spin, which also refracts one moment in history through multiple lenses.

One place that always takes perspectivism in unanticipated, fresh directions: poetry. Wallace Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” is a classic. It allows the reader’s imagination as much air as poet’s own creation. It’s a series of docks jutting out into the lake, with you all sun-warmed in your swimsuit, merely disguised as a poem. Right now, take a moment and read that poem.

Amazing. Am I right?


Recall an object that made an impression on you in the past 24 hours. It can be a tomato sandwich, a clip from a newscast, a stranger’s face, anything. In short 1- to 3-sentence paragraphs, begin describing that thing as various characters—other than you—might encounter it. First person. Third person. Direct address. Play around. Be bold. Work at the back story for each “verse,” but whittle it down to bare essentials on the page. Waste no adjective; make each syllable count.

Once you’ve reached 13, stop. Look at what you have and use those flashes—a few, just one, heck, maybe all 13—as the launch for a spin around the lake.

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