fluorine

Rita Wong

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arsenic in calculators, mercury in felt

hats, mad as a poisoned hatter

pyrophoric undercurrent in mundane

acts assume poison unless otherwise

informed crowded alloys detect no

health damage until generations later i

brush my teeth with nuclear intensity

the cavities i avoid destined for others

fall into hazardous-waste piles up as

i sleep smells though i don’t see it

transported across oceans & into sad

rural neglect how shiny my teeth are

this cold crisp morning

Rita Wong, “fluorine” from forage (Nightwood Editions, 2007). Copyright © 2007 by Nightwood Editions. Reprinted by permission of Nightwood Editions.

Dive in: 
  1. The near absence of punctuation and capitalization is notable in this poem. What effect does this visual absence have on how you relate to the words? How you read them?
  2. Consider the speaker’s tone. Where does the speaker use irony to examine “mundane acts” and what Wong refers to in this micro-interview as “the materials in our daily lives?”
  3. What kind of “poison” is the speaker referring to? Where does the speaker see poison?
  4. The concluding image of shiny teeth on a “cold crisp morning” is a stark contrast to the degradation so evident earlier in the poem. What is the speaker saying about the relationship between personal comfort and collective life on earth?
  5. A poem without much punctuation provides opportunity for unique recitations. Recite this poem while brushing your teeth. Mark the cadences of the brush strokes, the difficulty of speaking with a mouth full of toothpaste. Integrate these rhythms and cadences into your eventual (non-bathroom!) recitation.
  6. Write three or four complete sentences describing a common household object and its function in your home. Once complete, strip the description of punctuation, capitalization, and conjunctions (and, but, as). How has this stripping away affected your understanding of the object? Arrange and (re)arrange the words to reveal the poetry hidden in plain sight.

 

Useful Links

Rita Wong answers questions about writing: https://capliterature.wordpress.com/2011/04/02/rita-wong-in-dialogue/

Rita Wong reads at the Cascadia Poetry festival: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOjPZ2BspNQ

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