blackbird image

Thirteen ways of looking at a blackbird - notes

The idea for this version of Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird came to me a couple of years ago, when I was working on my own one Saturday and there was a heavy fall of snow. In the middle of the afternoon, whilst waiting for the kettle to boil for my umpteenth cup of coffee, I happened to glance out of the window. In the carpark outside grows a crab-apple tree, which bears very bright red fruit in winter, and because of the snow the apples were looking particularly vivid. On one branch of the tree perched a blackbird - a startling contrast with both the white snow and the red fruit. Pretentious soul that I am, I was immediately reminded of Wallace Stevens' poem, and almost as immediately it occurred to me that the crab-apple tree would make an excellent interface for a new media version, with the bright red apples acting as buttons to call up the different sections.

Since I live in the UK, the blackbird I saw that day was a Eurasian blackbird, and this is the one I put into my version of the poem. Only after I'd completed several sections did it strike me that perhaps this wasn't the bird Wallace Stevens had in mind when he was writing. He lived in the USA, of course, and as far as I've been able to discover from the Web, the Eurasian blackbird is never seen in the wild in the USA. Perhaps Stevens was thinking of the redwinged blackbird instead. Doubtless somebody else will know the answer to this. (Anna Crowe, one of the founders of the StAnza Poetry Festival, wrote to me in March 2009. She has a son who lives in Washington, and he tells her that in the States a "blackbird" is a crow.) Be that as it may, the Eurasian blackbird is the one I always imagine when I read the poem, so I've kept faith with it for this version.

The landscape in "Among Twenty Snowy Mountains" is taken from "Kiso Mountains in Snow" by Hiroshige.

The feet in "The Thin Men of Haddam" were modelled by my niece Claire.

An image from "Three Minds" was included in the "Futuresonic 2007 - Psychedelia" digital art show.

The following quotes are used in "River": "By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down" - Psalm 137; "Sweet Thames! run softly, till I end my song" - Prothalamion, Edmund Spencer; "The river glideth at his own sweet will" - Composed upon Westminster Bridge, William Wordsworth; "I do not know much about gods, but I think that the river is a strong brown god" - The Dry Salvages (from Four Quartets), T S Eliot; "Only birth matters say the river's whorls" - Salmon Eggs (from River), Ted Hughes.

The background to "Man and Woman" is from Femme se promenant dans une foret exotique (Woman Walking in an Exotic Forest) by Le Douanier Rousseau.

The chorus on "Autumn Winds" is from "Louisiana 1927" by Randy Newman.