SunWinks! August 31, 2014: Cubism Isn’t Just For Squares

SunWinksLogoDear SunWinkers:

Cubism is an artistic movement of the 1910’s and ‘20s exemplified by Picasso. The idea of cubism is to deconstruct the objective components of a subject and reassemble them in striking ways. So Picasso pulls out eyes and nose and breasts and contours and assembles them on the canvas as though he had turned around and thrown them over his shoulder like a bridal bouquet. The effect is to open the mind and force us to look at the inner structure of things without being seduced by phenomena like symmetry and photorealism.

So it is with cubist poetry, which breaks its subject matter down into discrete pieces and juxtaposes them in unusual ways, creating a nonlinear effect on the mind that would otherwise be inaccessible underneath layers of the familiar flow of meaning and language.

The seminal Cubist poets are commonly thought of as including Guillaume Apollinaire, Jean Cocteau, Max Jacob, and Pierre Reverdy. Later poets strongly influenced by Cubism include Gertrude Stein, Kenneth Koch, Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, William Carlos Williams, and John Cage. Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” takes what may be called a cubist approach, as may e.e. cummings’ experiments with word division and punctuation, and the later poems of Emily Dickinson.

The examples which follow will give you an idea of the approach or approaches, beginning with something I wrote several months ago. If you want to go deeper, look up the work of the poets represented below or mentioned above on and

For now, just absorb the spirit of these poems and experiment with your own methods of injecting an element of randomness, freedom, or nonlinear (as a collage or pastiche) approach in your writing.

You can’t get it wrong. Try not to think much, edit, or filter. Just relax your mind and experiment. Pretend you’re in the third grade and it’s finger-painting time. Even if you don’t produce anything you think is worth keeping, it’s still a great way to get the juices flowing and snooker your mind into looking at things in a fresh way.


Poem: Protestant Work Ethic


from Fascicle* 34 Poem 9

*an unpublished handwritten collection


To foe of His – I’m deadly

foe –

None stir1 the second time

On whom I lay a Yellow Eye –

Or an emphatic Thumb –


Though I than He – may

longer live

He longer must – than I –

For I have but the power2

to kill

Without – the power to die –


1harm   2art

[Dickinson’s notes for, apparently, alternative words.]

Emily Dickinson



What Do I See

A very little snail.

A medium sized turkey.

A small band of sheep.

A fair orange tree.

All nice wives are like that.

Listen to them from here.


You did not have an answer.



Gertrude Stein




The empty bell

The dead birds

In the house where everyone is falling asleep

 Nine o’clock

The earth holds itself still

You would say somebody sighed

The trees look like they were smiling

Water trembles at the tip of each leaf

A cloud crosses the night


In front of the door a man is singing


The window opens noiselessly


Pierre Reverdy

trans. Kenneth Rexroth



No Thanks, No. 70


bRight s??? big

soft near calm
calm st?? holy

(soft briGht deep)
yeS near sta? calm star big yEs

near deep whO big alone soft near
deep calm deep
????Ht ?????T)
Who(holy alone)holy(alone holy)alone

e.e. cummings



from Elegy In a Spider’s Web

What to say when the spider

Say when the spider what

When the spider the spider what

The spider does what

Does does dies does it not

Not live and then not

Legs legs then one

When the spider does dies

Death spider death

Or not the spider or

What to say when

To say always

Death always

The dying of always

Or alive or dead


Laura Riding


Mesostic: John Cage

The Prompt

Start with something: a poem, a piece of your prose, some found text, or do some automatic writing in your journal.

Experiment with some process of breaking it apart and pulling it back together in an inventive, random, collage-ish way.

When you’re done, and only when you’re done—that is, you’re finished with the process, you feel you’re onto something that has a definite effect, and you sense a certain completeness in what you have—then you might decide to polish it make the effect more consistent.

Alternate Prompt

Write a mesostic. See the John Cage example above. The text can be quite ordinary, like Cage’s, but you may find imposing the mesostic element (deciding on a name and making it run down the middle of the text) yields a poetic or nonlinear effect.

Post your response on your blog. If it’s a WordPress blog, tag it WeSun. If you don’t have a blog, put it in a Note on Facebook or some such functionality, something you can link to.

Then comment to this post with the link to your response.

I reblog this column at (you should be following that blog, too) and will post the links to your responses there. I will also comment on all responses. Don’t put your responses in a comment here on the SunWinks! blog. It won’t travel to the other group along with the post.

Finally, if you enjoy this, please be a good citizen and share this with your own poetry circles.



© 2014 Douglas J. Westberg. All Rights Reserved. Please share, reblog, link to, but do not copy or alter.



  1. This is so cool. I have heard of Cubism before but this was the 1st time that I have ever seen poetry in the and enjoy Cubism style. I am stil confused exactly how one writes in this style (to be fair I am not very clear on how to write poetry in any style as far as that goes.) but I will continue to read and enjoy poems in this style even if I am not brave enough to attempt to write one.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: SunWinks! March 1, 2015: Abstract Poetry: The Medium is the Message. | SunWinks!

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