Thomas Lux's most recent book is God Particles (Houghton Mifflin, 2008). He has two books forthcoming, a collection of poetry Child Made of Sand (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and From The Southland (Marick Press), a book of nonfiction. He is Bourne Professor of Poetry at The Georgia Institute of Technology.
A LITTLE TOOTH
Your baby grows a tooth, then two,
and four, and five, then she wants some meat
directly from the bone. It's all
over: she'll learn some words, she'll fall
in love with cretins, dolts, a sweet
talker on his way to jail. And you,
your wife, get old, flyblown, and rue
nothing. You did, you loved, your feet
are sore. It's dusk. Your daughter's tall.
When was this poem composed? How did it start?
I wrote this poem over the summer of 1987 in the first few months of my daughter's life. I think it's safe to say it was her birth that started it!
How many revisions did this poem undergo? How much time elapsed between the first and final drafts?
Maybe ten to twelve revisions over about three to four months.
Do you believe in inspiration? How much of this poem was “received” and how much was the result of sweat and tears?
I don’t particularly believe in inspiration. I believe you need to feel something intensely enough to need to write a poem that might be telling you you need to try to write it.
How did this poem arrive at its final form? Did you consciously employ any principles of technique?
I'm not sure at what point I decided to write the poem in pretty strict tetrameter nor when the rhyme scheme emerged.
How long after you finished this poem did it first appear in print?
Probably by the second or third draft. It was a long time ago: the baby is now twenty-three years old! And I'm happy to report she has fallen in love with cretins, dolts, etc. but never for too long.
Not sure how long or where it first hit print but the best place it appeared in print was on NYC subway cars, as part of a project called Poetry in Motion. Neither my publisher nor the sponsors of the project informed me about it so the first time I heard (no kidding) about it was when my daughter saw it in a NYC subway car and called me.
How long do you let a poem “sit” before you send it off into the world? Do you have any rules about this or does your practice vary with every poem?
I do like to let poems sit—between working on them and after I think they're finished, because they're usually not.
Could you talk about fact and fiction and how this poem negotiates the two?
Facts are irrelevant. A poet’s job is to try to tell the truth. You can bend, change, invent facts all you want to try to do so.
Is this a narrative poem?
You could say it's a narrative poem: a guy is talking. You could say it's a lyric poem.
Do you remember who you were reading when you wrote this poem? Any influences you’d care to disclose?
Can't recall who exactly I was reading then but it was history, nonfiction of all sorts, poetry. My influences are too many to name.
Do you have any particular audience in mind when you write, an ideal reader?
The ideal reader is any reader who gets a little pleasure or, depending on the poem, gets pissed off.
Did you let anyone see drafts of this poem before you finished it? Is there an individual or a group of individuals with whom you regularly share work?
I probably showed it to a few poets friends then: Michael Ryan, Mary Karr, Stephen Dobyns. I remember reading it to my daughter when she was about three months old: she was unimpressed!
How does this poem differ from other poems of yours?
I think this poem is pretty much in the ballpark of a lot of my poems.
What is American about this poem?
What's American about it is that's it's in American English.
Was this poem finished or abandoned?
This one was finished.