What is the most important part of the poem? the title, the form, the rhyme scheme? The title certainly has to grab your attention, are we more likely to read a poem called A Martian Send a postcard Home ( Craig Raine) or Summer Sun for example? (apologies to anyone who has written a poem titled this..)
Once you’ve been grabbed by the title, you then read the first line and this is where the hard work of the poet begins because the first line has to hook you into reading the rest of the poem. If you’re not hooked you won’t read on and if you’re submitting poems to busy editors, the title and the first line is maybe all they’ll read, so it has a lot of work to do to make you have to stand out from the crowd.
So what are some fantastic first lines?
‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers – Emily Dickinson
‘Shit are we lost?’ – Debora Lidov, The Drama of the Gifted Hansel.
Wench, yowm the colour of ower town: – Liz Berry Birmingham Roller
Do not go gentle into that good night – Dylan Thomas
I took God with me to the sheep fair– Kerry Hardie, Sheep Fair Day
They’re all amazing in different ways, some jump straight into the action, some take you by the hand and lead you on, some express something in a way you’ve not thought of before and some set the tone or voice of the poem very firmly as in Liz Berry’s Black Country dialect.
Above all though, they press our curiosity button and make us want to read on.
It’s not the mistake you make, it’s how you deal with it that matters
This is a saying I used all the time at work and I found how people reacted to their mistakes was often a good judge of character. I preferred working with people who were open and honest; who, when they realised something had gone wrong, apologised for it and asked how they could do better in the future. rather than people who tried to deny or cover up their errors. It’s not easy when we’re embarrassed or ashamed but our reaction is a measure of who we are.
Recent events across the world involving people of power have shown their true character, even though we may have been pretty sure of it before. This is the poem that came out of events in recent weeks.
The photo? It’s a horse gag. Let us never be gagged.
The Measure of a Man
It’s not surrounding yourself with gimlet- eyed sycophants reclining on cushions in your own private echo chamber, it’s pulling out the barbs of critics from your skin, however hard they sting and seeing their truth; that is a measure of your humility.
It’s not indulging in the gluttony of the feast grabbing the tastiest titbits of wealth and supremacy, it’s in the modesty of taking only what you need and giving the rest to those without hope or privilege; that is a measure of your morality.
It’s not the self-delusion of seeing the world through the eyes of your own class or colour, it’s having the courage to walk unfamiliar streets and greeting those you meet openly and with enquiry; that is a measure of your understanding.
It’s not how you accept the responsibility of power put on it dazzling crown, wield its weighty sceptre, it’s how you step down from the throne and pass on those enticing burdens to waiting hands; that is a measure of your grace.
Do not go ungraciously history will remember you for it.
Great to be involved in this initiative from the Cambridge Writing Retreat. A poem every day in June. Honoured to be in the company of some amazing poets. Have a listen, post some feedback .Listen to the poem here
I’ve just realised that the poem we created in the poetry workshops last year is up on the Festival website! We had such a great time, the participants were enthusiastic and inspiring, all I really had to do was draw the whole thing together. I’m running the workshops again this year, they are open to all ages and suitable for people that write poems regularly or people that have never written one before. Rumours are, there’ll also be an open mic this year…
Do come and join me, you can just come to the poetry events or join in with some of the other amazing music, singing or dancing events. Folk week really is one of the most special weeks of the year, ‘a rainbow coloured riot of colour and sound’