NaPoWriMo Day 28: Write a Not-Thing

Amy Grier
2 min readApr 28, 2020
Photo by Rebecca Matthews on Unsplash

Remember Day #24 when we looked at William Carlos Williams’ poem “The Red Wheelbarrow?” Williams believed in the ‘realness’ of objects in our everyday world. He believed art was dependent on that reality.

That’s not the only way to engage with poetry, however. Many poets, particularly postmodernists, don’t believe in a definite reality or unified narrative that fully explains our lived experience. Once we try to define a belief, say, or a philosophy, it always slides out from under just as we think we can pin it down.

This belief extends to contradicting what William Carlos Williams thinks of as ‘real’ objects. Everything is impermanent. Nothing can be fully defined and or captured when everything changes. And our individual perception alter all that we see.

Wallace Steven’s poem “A Study of Two Pears” exemplifies the idea that a poet cannot fully capture the reality of objects with language:

I
Opusculum paedagogum.
The pears are not viols,
nudes or bottles.
They resemble nothing else.

II
They are yellow forms
Composed of curves
Bulging toward the base.
They are touched red…

First the speaker offers the latin term for “pears,” perhaps seeking precision and accuracy in their study. Next, they say what pears are not: “viols, / nudes or bottles.” The speaker can find nothing to compare them with.

In the second stanza, the speaker attempts to define what the pears are: “yellow forms” having “curves” and being “touched red.”

The next several stanzas explore ways of defining the pears, until finally, the speaker concludes:

VI
The shadows of the pears
Are blobs on the green cloth.
The pears are not seen
As the observer wills.

(Read the whole wonderful poem here)

After grappling with what the pears are not, then what they are, the speaker turns to the pears’ shadows in frustration, calling them “blobs.” In the end, they admit “The pears are not seen / As the observer wills.” They cannot define the pears. It’s as if, without this admission, the poem would never end.

Try writing a poem about an object — what it is, how it looks, what color it is, its shape, etc. Also explore what the object is not. Do you feel, in the end, that you succeeded? That it’s impossible? How can you end the poem?

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Amy Grier

Writer & editor. MFA Lesley Uni. Singer/pianist. Blogger @Brevitymag. Published Streetlight Mag, Poetry East & more. Current project: memoir, Terrible Daughter