March 8, 2014

Prompt: First Lines with Emily

Vincent Van Gogh


A word is dead
when it is said,
some say,
I say it just
begins to live
that day.

Emily Dickinson


This month's prompt began in reading an article, "Where Shall I Begin?," by Jessica Greenbaum about being inspired by first lines.

"Like poetry itself, a secret channel exists between the first line and the mind. What forces are at play may never show themselves fully, and some resounding openings attach to memory by more mysterious motives. Ever since Howard Moss handed my undergraduate class a copy of Randall Jarrell’s “The Woman at the Washington Zoo” in 1979, the poem’s first line has captained the troops of first lines, reminding me that observation, cadence, rhyme, and lyricism all prime the poem. “The saris go by me from the embassies,” begins the speaker, “Cloth from the moon. Cloth from another planet.” Where are we? What’s happening?

Bread crumbs. Eat, birds. Help me start."

Back in 1999, I wrote a rather crude program that would generate a random line for a poem and used it as a prompt. My first line generator is still online and I did a second generation line generator
because it was popular. Now it seems rather crude and limited (though fun).

But there are plenty of lists of poetry first lines in anthologies and online.

For this month's prompt, I have chosen the first lines of Emily Dickinson as our starting place. That's a lot of first lines to choose from!

I tried it myself. I was struck by her first line "How dare the robins sing."  I think it was the coming spring, lack of robins in my backyard and the audacity I heard in that line that made me choose it.

I wrote my poem WITHOUT looking at the rest of Emily's poem. I suggest you do the same so as not to be influenced by her. When you finish the first draft, take a look at her poem. It might suggest some revision to your own poem. (In my case, I was pleasantly surprised that Emily and I were walking down the same spring path.)

Go to the index of Emily Dickinson's first lines and pick a line or two to start. The only requirements of this prompt are that you use that line as your first line (or start for a first line - you can lengthen it), and that when you title your poem, include the number assigned to Emily's poem (She didn't use titles.) so that others can see your inspiration.

My poem would begin:
AUDACITY   XCIV (or 94)
How dare the robins sing...

Submissions are open until March 31, 2014


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