One of my favorite poems is “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” by Wallace Stevens. One reason I like it is that it is a list. I’m a sucker for a good list. I fall every time. I also like it because I don’t get it. It’s so simple and so complex it defies analysis, which I think might have been the poet’s intention. (Yes, I’m sure that many scholars have analyzed it ad infinitum, and they truly believe they have it right. No, I don’t want to read those analyses.) The language is beautiful and cryptic and everyone gets to see in it what they will.
A few years ago I used this poem with my class of Juniors and Seniors. I told them straight up that I didn’t get it, and suggested that we investigate what we could do with it. They wrote some marvelous lists of Thirteen. Recently my friend, Tanya committed to writing 50 blog posts in 50 days, and she has “hacked” various writers in delightful ways. I have followed along with a couple of them, and had a great time doing so. Today I decided to write my own hack, this time of Wallace Stevens’ lovely poem. So here goes:
Thirteen Ways of Looking At a Classroom
Among twenty talking children
The only stationary thing
Was the eye of the teacher.
I was of three minds
Like a meeting
In which there are three teachers.
The teacher moved fluidly between scattered desks.
It was all part of her act.
A teacher and a child
A teacher and a child and a parent
I do not know which to acknowledge,
The beauty of quiet receptiveness
Or the swirl of growing meaning
The child talking,
Or just after.
Blinds fill the long window
With horizontal shafts of light.
The shadow of the teacher
Crossed it to and fro.
Traced in the shadow
Of an incomprehensible origin.
O, critics of a flagging school system
Why do you imagine different, more perfect children?
Do you not see those we have now,
As they move about the classrooms
Of the schools we have today?
I know fluent, fluid understanding
And smart, thoughtful questioning,
But I know too
That the children are involved
In what I know.
When the children ran out of sight
It marked the border
Of that which we already thought was correct.
At the sight of children
Chasing a soccer ball on wet asphalt
Even the most idealistic
Would laugh deeply.
She drove over Northern California
In a red Prius.
Once, a sharp thought assailed her,
In that she mistook
The quiet of the day
For children learning.
The classroom is moving.
The children must be learning.
It was morning all day.
It was windy,
And the rain was about to fall.
The teacher stood outside her door
Watching them scamper away.