February 8, 2009

Dorianne Laux: Not Just The Facts

Our prompt for this month is to start a poem by first collecting a series of facts about a subject that interests you. It might be a topic, as in our model poem, that is a bit of a current obsession. You will use the facts in your poem, but the poem will also need to leap, like many poems, to another place.

The poet and poem used here is "Facts About The Moon" by Dorianne Laux which is the title poem from her 2006 collection Facts About the Moon. I came upon the poem and the idea for this prompt when I was reading Brian Brodeur's blog, How A Poem Happens where contemporary poets are interviewed about the making of one of their poems.

Laux mentions that she had been reading James Wright's ABOVE THE RIVER and that it may have been an unconscious source for the leap. "Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota" is a good example of a Wright poem that leaps, particularly in its final line. (Read that poem and listen to him read it)

In the blog post (which reprints the poem), Laux talks about how a dinner conversation about the solar/lunar system led her to become somewhat obsessed with finding out facts about the moon.

Among the many facts I learned that night the one that stuck was the fact that since the expansion of the universe, the moon has been steadily and significantly backing away from the earth, which meant the moon once appeared much larger in the past and would only appear smaller in the future. I couldn’t get over it. I went to bed trying to imagine it and woke up thinking about it. I was obsessed.

That obsession led her to seek more information about the moon and was the prewriting for the poem.

I also read everything I could get my hands on about the moon. That fascination has been long-lived as I’m still reading about the universe and am just now I’m finishing up Timothy Ferris’ Coming of Age in the Milky Way? .

The second aspect of the poem is that my extended family was going through a life-crisis, a not uncommon state of affairs for them, so that was in the back of my mind. I was in the process of working to pull away from them. Maybe I became obsessed with the moon as a way to curb my obsession with the latest family crisis. But the tug of the family is tremendous. Even a crazy family can seem better than no family. The poem is two obsessions in collision.

This idea of two obsessions or ideas in collision is also important to your poem.

Laux's original intent ("That the listing of the facts was in some way interesting was my only concern.") took that leap in another direction that led to the poetic collision.

The leap from the planetary to the personal might have been a technique had I thought of it consciously, but I didn’t. It happened naturally, organically, without my being aware of it until I had finished the poem. I really thought the poem was about the moon, and these two people I had made up, the woman and her boy, strangers to me, but realized then it was my mother and my sister, or my sister and my niece, in disguise.


As I mention on the site, you could cheat on the prompt and work backwards - start with an idea for a poem and then research the facts about a subject within the poem.

It might be difficult to "prompt" a leap in writing a poem, but I have the feeling that if you can put one obsession into motion, perhaps it will naturally collide with another and produce enough energy for the poem to move.


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