In the February issue of AWP The Writer's Chronicle, Jane Hirshfield writes “Many good poems have a kind of window-moment in them – a point at which they change their direction of gaze or thought in a way that suddenly opens a broadened landscape of meaning and feeling.” She cites an example from Donald Justice’s sonnet “The Pupil,” which speaks of a boy practicing the piano, losing his place, forgetting the keys, and keeping on “stupid and wild with love.” Then the line “Outside, the traffic, the laborers going home” offers this earnest child a different context. Jane Hirshfield gives another example of windows reminding us of a bigger world in Act III of King Lear, when the king looks into the storm and in a heart-widening moment is reminded of suffering beyond his personal sorrow.
Jane Hirshfield notes that windows are also a technique great for fiction, too, sometimes used on the level of sentence, sometimes a chapter, and sometimes a larger structural device. Shifts can happen from concrete to abstract, small to large, momentary to lasting, or the other ways around. Many writers use these strategies unconsciously, but she suggests that it can be valuable to try creating a window on purpose now and then. When you don’t know how to move from one scene to another, can a change in perspective help? When you need to connect to a past moment, rather than writing a flashback, is there something almost slightly out of sight that can nudge your character through time?
Looking hard at something, then shifting your view, can change your day, too: in Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and The Poet in Our Time, a book I swooned about last Friday, Eavan Boland writes about days as a mother dealing with small gloves and bright cups, then in the evening, the sense of peace she felt as her children were tucked under covers. She confides that then sometimes her view of life shifted beyond the walls, and she felt a love for not only her children but what lay beyond, a sense she attributed to having read a lot of pastoral poems.
Many of us tend to look in the same direction when walking: on the sidewalk, toward the middle distance, at the tail of the dog. Shifting my view to the horizon or clouds just for a bit, my mood changes. And leaving my manuscript, I’ve found answers to puzzles on hikes, drives, or in the shower, though never, as some have, in dreams. Looking down, then looking up, looking narrow, looking wide. I’ve made changes like these, but today I’m going to try to do it consciously and would love it if you joined me. Here’s a window where our character gazes. Now mine looks at a cornfield, and, on another day, chickens in a kitchen garden. On still another day, horses clip-clop over cobblestones. Can she see beyond trees or triple deckers? Can she see all at once, or even time passing, where we meet for a moment?
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