This Micro-Lesson is provided in anticipation of Carty’s upcoming class, Conscious Revision, which begins on Monday. Register now.
Micro-Lesson: “An Octopus of Ice”
For this lesson, we’ll aim to revise a poem through the use of digression. We’ll look at Marianne Moore’s poem “An Octopus,” as well as Srikanth Reddy’s essay about Moore’s poetry from his book Changing Subjects: Digressions in Modern American Poetry.
Moore’s poem, a paean to Mt. Rainier, begins:
of ice. Deceptively reserved and flat,
it lies ‘in grandeur and in mass’
beneath a sea of shifting snow-dunes…
Throughout this poem Moore uses quotations (such as “in grandeur and in mass”) borrowed from other scientific and technical sources as a juxtaposition to her own observations of the mountain. Here, in particular, Moore uses geological terminology as a means to create what Srikanth Reddy refers to as “a new working vocabulary of creativity.”
Once we have discussed Moore’s poem, we’ll look at other examples from other authors, such as Robyn Schiff and Maggie Nelson, and discuss different strategies for incorporating outside sources into our writing.
Find a “soft spot” in a poem—a place where the language is uneven. Using the surrounding context for this moment in the poem, try to discover a source (a textbook, congressional testimony, online message board, anything!) that will offer a different perspective on the topic. Use the juxtaposition of this “received” diction and your own poetic voice as a means to create a new turn within the poem, and to give the poem momentum—poementum?—on a new trajectory.