A note about “Defacing the Moon”

/ Monday, April 18th, 2011 / No Comments »

I have more to say about this little poem than I thought I would. This was the title poem of my first collection, and I’ve used it in both of my big fat (by poetry standards) retrospectives, and when I give a poetry workshop, this is the piece I give to participants to play around with.

My humble writing career got started in the days of the desktop publishing surge, when advances in software and home printers made it possible for editors everywhere to generate paper chapbooks that looked (more or less) like a professional printer produced them. (My own Mythic Delirium is a relic of that time, a Triassic beast hanging on into the Cretaceous.) Back them, the equivalent of Ralan’s or Duotrope was a monthly snail mail zine called Scavenger’s Newsletter, published by the late lamented Janet Fox.

And that zine accepted flash fiction and poetry, but poems could only be 10 lines long. I wrote “Defacing the Moon” specifically for SCAV, but being the inattentive lunkhead that I am, I sent it in at 11 lines. Janet returned it with a note that she really loved it but it was too long.

Never give me an opening. I asked her if she’d be willing to look at it again if I made it the right length. She said she would — and what happened next turned out to be a big breakthrough for me. Because it wasn’t easy at all removing a line while keeping the same flow of ideas and imagery. It took a lot of thinking, a lot of playing with words, a lot of double checking with Anita, before I felt the 10 line version was ready to go back. But go back it did, and sell it did, and I learned a little something about writing.

The stanza breaks didn’t come until much letter, when I was shopping my first chapbook around for blurbsters. One of the people I approached, Bruce Boston (whose own published poems must number in the thousands) told me he would not endorse the book as was, but he’d be willing to give me tips for editing were I open to it. I sure was, and it was the best decision I could have made. He red-penciled my chapbook and turned a mediocre mess into something that could turn heads. One of those tips: make wise use of stanza breaks!

As to the topic: my favorite movie in the whole wide world (not saying it’s the best, but it’s my favorite) is Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. The image from that film of an old sailing ship cutting a groove through the moondust with its keel inspired this verse. Though it’s possible the episode of The Tick in which Chairface Chippendale attempts to carve his name into the moon (managing the first three letters before Tick stops him) also played a part.

(Read and hear the poem here.)

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