First posted July 26, 2012, on the blog of the faculty of Vermont College’s Writing for Children and Young Adults, WriteatYourOwnRisk on posterous.
Who better than Julie Larios to serve up a writing prompt? I have often admired the wide-reaching content of her poetry and I got a little insight into her process when our northwest contingent of the faculty of VCFA MFA WC-YA gathered in June at Cannon Beach, Oregon.
(L. to r.: Marion Dane Bauer, Margaret Bechard, Jane Kurtz, Tom Birdseye, Julie Larios, Susan Fletcher, Ellen Howard.)
Julie suggested we each come up with ten strange facts, trade our lists, then choose two items to address some way in a poem. This makes sense with what I know about creativity, how the pairing of disparate things can lead to new thinking. As I worked I felt a tiny shift from writing with intention to writing to see what I might discover. An interesting turn.
The list Julie handed me oozed with possibilities:
- Seahorses swallow their food through their snouts.
- The eyes of the seahorse move independently (helps them see predators – compensating for slow movement.)
- Newborn babies take 30-40 breaths per minute. Adults over 18 average 8 – 20 breaths per minute.
- When flying, the blue-throated hummingbird’s heart rate can reach about 1250 beats/minute. When perching, 500-600 beats per minute. At night, resting, as low as 40 beats per minute.
- The hummingbird is the only bird that can fly backward.
- Birds have many bones which are hollow.
- One sentence in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is 823 words long.
- Stress can cause your hair to “turn white overnight” by causing the darker hair to fall out, (alopecia areata), leaving only naturally de-pigmented (white) hair.
One item seemed to be a found poem:
The home of the Collyer Brothers,
famous Manhattan hoarders, was
emptied of 19 tons of junk after
they died – that was only the first floor.
Eighty-four more tons of rubbish were removed
from the second and third floors during the second
attempt. In total, 130 tons of garbage
were removed. Included:
1. bowling balls, 2. three dressmaking models,
3. 25,000 books, 4. kerosene stove, 5. top of
a horse-drawn carriage, 6. 14 pianos,
7. two organs, 8. eight live cats, 9. rusted bicycles,
10. hundreds of yards of silk and fabric, 11. bugles,
banjos, violins, accordions, 12. decades of
The younger brother saved decades of
newspapers because he thought his brother
might like to “catch up on the news” if his vision
I ended up going with only one fact:
- “four-eyed” fish (anableps) actually have two eyes, the half above water sees one world, the divided half below water level sees the underwater world. Vision is simultaneous.
It was a lovely retreat. I learned that gathering quirky facts can inspire and buoy my writing. I reveled in early morning, mist-shrouded walks down the beach almost as much as my dog, Izzi. And I loved being with my wonderful colleagues.
Perhaps you, too, might be inspired by Julie’s list. See where your wandering takes you.