Poem with One Fact


Hall, Donald




Donald Hall's "Poem with One Fact" begins with the striking line, "At pet stores in Detroit, you can buy/ frozen rats/for seventy-five cents apiece, to feed/ your pet boa constrictor." From this one fact, Hall investigates the separations present in the neighborhoods of Detroit through vivid, sometimes surreal, metaphors. In this poem, Hall, first poetry editor of the Paris Review and 2006 Poet Laureate of the United States, investigates themes of  connection, socio-economic and cultural difference, and the barriers that must be breached if we are to live together in community. This poem challenges readers to remove themselves from the comfortable and familiar to imagine what the world might be like "if only we could communicate."

Full Text*

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Donald Hall, “Poem with One Fact” from Old and New Poems (1990).


Reading - Short Enough to Read Aloud.


Connection and RelationshipDiversity and DifferenceExclusion and BelongingIdentity and CommunityMoney and WealthPoverty and NeedPower and PrivilegeSocial and Political Change

Big Questions



Sample Discussion Questions

  1. What details from Hall's poem stand out to you? Why?
  2. How does the setting of Detroit factor into your understanding of the poem? Does place matter?
  3. How are rats understood differently in different places? For example, how do attitudes towards rats differ in Dearborn and Detroit?
  4. What does Hall suggest in imagining the boa constrictors of Southfield "eat out for a change"?
  5. What does Hall mean when he claims "they bring everything home, frozen solid"? Who is the "they" and what is Hall suggesting about the relationship between the city and the suburbs of Detroit?
  6. "If only we could communicate," what might be different?
  7. Do you have experiences with communities that are close in distance, but far in connection? What might be lost or gained in bridging the gaps between these communities?
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