December 10, 2019

“I think what gets a poem going is an initiating line.”

“Sometimes a first line will occur, and it goes nowhere; but other times—and this, I think, is a sense you develop—I can tell that the line wants to continue. If it does, I can feel a sense of momentum—the poem finds a reason for continuing.... The first few lines keep giving birth to more and more lines. Like most poets, I don’t know where I’m going. The pen is an instrument of discovery rather than just a recording implement. If you write a letter of resignation or something with an agenda, you’re simply using a pen to record what you have thought out. In a poem, the pen is more like a flashlight, a Geiger counter, or one of those metal detectors that people walk around beaches with. You’re trying to discover something that you don’t know exists, maybe something of value.”

Said Billy Collins, interviewed by George Plimpton in The Paris Review in 2001.


Howard said...

That's a beautiful sentiment. Your camera is your flashlight, no?

tcrosse said...

There once was a man from Racine....

Jupiter said...

Well, I was all ready to slam this "Billy Collins" person for the conventionally unconventional sentimentalist he must no doubt be, but I thought I should look him up first.

Not bad. No Robert Frost, but not bad.

tim in vermont said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Yancey Ward said...

First lines and last lines. I am no poet, but I imagine that the last line is often the first one for many poets.

Fernandinande said...

In a poem, the pen is more like a flashlight, a Geiger counter, or one of those metal detectors that people walk around beaches with.

I think that I shall never see
a pen as lovely as a metal detector.

A detector whose hungry sensor is prest
Against beach’s sweet flowing breast;

A detector that looks for Gold all day,
And optimizes her aperture size to say;

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only Bill Wyman can detect a metal tree.

Fernandinande said...


Jupiter said...

Da Duh-da da Duh-da obscene.

BudBrown said...

You think Homer said "but wait, there's more," a lot?

The Minnow Wrangler said...

After my husband died in February 2015, I was driving back from the airport in the dark, after dropping off my mother. The line came into my head, "Are you in the winter moon?" There are more lines but that is how it started.

Darrell said...

Pointy birds

mccullough said...

This is the method I use for my blog comments.

Navy8r said...

The first sentence of “Howl” is a doozy.
“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night, ...”

tcrosse said...

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
Then strike a match and you will know
You're in Hernando's Hideaway.

Two-eyed Jack said...

I have been brooding on the mediocrity of the opening line "In Egypt's sandy silence, all alone, stands a gigantic Leg."

J. Farmer said...

That is no country for old men.

rhhardin said...

Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the village though
He will not mind if here I sit
To watch his woods fill up with ____

flashlight effect

traditionalguy said...

"I was standing by my window one cold and cloudy day..." and the circle of country music has been unbroken from the writing of that line down to today. It's a Scots Irish thing.

chuck said...

“Sometimes a first line will occur, and it goes nowhere"

Dylan Thomas agrees, but he never let that stop him.

rehajm said...

I am no poet, but I imagine that the last line is often the first one for many poets.

The cat...shat


Ken B said...

Once upon a ‘peachment dreary,
while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten law ...

Phil Beck said...

“The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano, from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor, when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.”

Thus begins Collins’ wonderful tribute to motherhood. I hand-copied it and sent it to my mother on her 90th birthday. She thought I was crazy.

fleg9bo said...

tcrosse said: Hernando's Hideaway

I saw The Pyjama Game with my folks in a theater in the round in West Covina, CA, close to half a century ago. What made it notable was that it starred Barbara Eden. Hubba hubba.

Nonapod said...

Clark Ashton Smith's opening lime to Averoigne

In Averoigne the enchantress weaves
Weird spells that call a changeling sun,

tim in vermont said...

My favorite poet is Enderby.

Lucid-Ideas said...

When I was in Iraq I wrote a lot of poetry. Especially love poetry to my gf at the time (cheating bitch). My CO told me that in a situation of complete insanity and destruction a man must find something constructive and must force himself to be constructive and creative or the evil surrounding him will consume him. That CO is now a white house staffer.

95% of my poems were love poems. No need for a 'fleshlight' to shine a spotlight on what I was thinking about most often.

That being said some intellectual nuggets were forthcoming. Stay tuned for any updates from myself regarding the 5% of poems that weren't about what I was thinking most often.

(P.S. can I mention that the USA has very poor taste in the countries we've been fighting wars in recently. Muslim countries and muslim women? I mean fuck. Why can't American boys be sent to fight somewhere with less restrictive sexual and relationship codes. Donald. Bubby. Declare war on Bolsanaro. My gf and I need a justification for a petit Loira to add to our Tulsi-Throuple!)

The Minnow Wrangler said...

Lucid-Ideas I would like to see some of your best poetry.

Narr said...

Skylark likes Enderby too!

Great first lines:

Here I sit, all broken-hearted . . .

Fuck a duck, screw a hinny . . .

There was an old man named Dave . . .

There was an old man named Green . . .

Yeah, hinny--that a problem?

Lucid-Ideas said...

@The Minnow Wrangler

Of which variety? This is a PG-13 rated blog....

An Ode To Grecian Fleshlight

How do I love thee?
Let me count the ways.
Do I love thee horizontally?
Will my friends mock me vociferously?
I shall not compare you to a summer's day.
For you are but Chinese silicone.
But I have yet to be furloughed.
And you - oh fleshlight - are the sun.

The Minnow Wrangler said...

LOL I'm sure you can do better.

rehajm said...

I miss George Plimpton.

Lucid-Ideas said...

@The Minnow Wrangler

AA's blog is PG-13. I will not make it NC17.

Phidippus said...

Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the village, though
He will not see me stopping here
To stand and make some yellow snow

Inspired by a real-life incident.

Phidippus said...

The Minnow Wrangler @1:09 PM:

If you ever finished that poem, I'd love to read it, if you care to share it with us.
That line is certainly a very promising start (or end).

The best poems are about the important stuff: Love, and death. Emily Dickinson knew this. Why bother with anything else?

Owen said...

Poems often grow for me out of a short phrase. By “grow” I mean a process like crystals forming out of a saturated solution: right concentration, right temperature, right moment. A recent one, addressed to the ghost of Tutankhamen in the Cairo museum, is this, which was triggered by the museum guards’ repeated call, “No photo, no photo.”
No Photo

What remains of you
In your cerements
Floats behind glass
With terrible glare
Try as I might
Holding the camera
At any angle
I cannot dodge

The reflection
Overlaid on the real
Gilt and polychrome
And inner windings
That were to seal
Your body from corruption
And guard your soul
Against even the dream
Of sorrow

Seeing there my figure
Like a thief
In the act of taking
A dusting of photons
That glow and are gone
While guards stir themselves
As if swatting flies
Shouting too late
No photo no photo

Tyrone Slothrop said...

That's why I love haiku-- it's really nothing but a first line. You shouldn't need more.

Lucid-Ideas said...


The Jokester
The Prankster
The frivolous gangster
The comedian
A gregarian
The future parliamentarian
The best of us
Makes jest of us
What'll we do
Now that you're
Not next to us?

You're special man
A maximum friend
Why'd they burn you
To death
In Fallujah man?

I recall your jokes
And you bummed my smokes
Back at home
We would've exchanged
Some tokes

It doesn't seem real
That you're not here
Talking to your mom
And the way she feels
A Mother's tears

But all's not lost
Despite the cost
And my first son's name
Shall be Daniel

madAsHell said...

I think what gets a poem going is an initiating line.

I keep reading that irritating!! Poetry is tedious vanity.

Haiku on the other hand takes talent!!

Bob Boyd said...

Roses are red
Violets are blue
Start with one line
Then add a few
shoe bee dew bee dew

dustbunny said...

Picnic. lightning. Nabokov

Howard said...

This Is Just To Say
I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

tcrosse said...

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Tinker Bell and Peter Pan
And Princess Tiger Lily ran
From Captain Hook and Smee.

Phidippus said...

Good one, Owen.

Same to you, Lucid-Ideas.

I hadn't read that one for years, Howard. Thank you for reminding me of it. It is very economical of means, is it not?

Guildofcannonballs said...

Great pics.

Not a lot of hate except for the well-deserved.

Poetic comment:

"DerKommentator says:
December 10, 2019 at 2:18 pm GMT • 200 Words

"Most of us have not been perfect sons to our mothers and fathers, but those of us who were fortunate enough to have parents who loved us and did their utmost to raise us well despite their own flaws and shortcomings realize, upon maturity, that we made our own mistakes in the ways we treated our parents. But if we rectify our attitudes and develop relationships with our parents that reflect proper respect and gratitude, this would usually compensate for the ways we were pains in their butts when we were children/adolescents.

"Assuming your mother is still alive (“… the respect she deserves”, not “deserved), you should still have plenty of time to cultivate a wonderful son-mother relationship with her through which you can convey how much you care for her and appreciate all she has done. As for your father – kudos again. You were righteous in your anger as you sought to defend her from him but you evidently realize he has his own unresolved issues while he was alive and you recognize he was a troubled man even as you do not make excuses for his actions.

"Humanity is fraught with hurt and unfairness, but if we can reduce that with our own loved ones, we can make this world a bit less messed up."

Dan said...

Frost, in a poem called "Directive" about stumbling across a place in the woods where kids played with discarded junk, says, "Come, if you'll let one be your guide who only has at heart your getting lost..." I've always thought the line was a perfect litmus test to find out if somebody gets or doesn't get poetry.

Bob Boyd said...

On The Lone Prairie

Well I came out west
Just to find my dream
When I got out here
Wasn't what it'd seemed

The days were hot
And the nights were cold
I was twenty one
But my horse was old

Sometimes it took all day
Just to go ten miles
Through buffalo shit
In four foot piles

Then I caught the bloat
on that wagon train
Swelled up and died
In a pourin' rain

But bury me not
On the lone prairie
Where the coyotes howl
And the Injuns pee.

Please bury me not
On the lone prairie
Where the coyotes howl
And the Injuns pee

wildswan said...

This first line was in the newspapers a long time ago: "He pressed a gun against by head and said: "Havana." This is the poem that resulted. It means goodbye.

"He pressed a gun against by head
And said: 'Havana,' "
The secret agent
The papers reported as stewardess said.
In Xerox copies
Well-concealed in cereal boxes,
A third man later said:
"The pilot led a double life."
Havana Hijack.
As in the flicks, it comes of flying
"I do not blame the doubled agent,"
Still another message said,
"But say I sent my love instead."

tcrosse said...

There once was a poet named Frost
Who went to the woods and got lost
But his horse knew the way
To carry the sleigh
For the old boy was probably sauced.

fleg9bo said...

Two commenter said: Enderby

onions, onions) onions.

Guildofcannonballs said...


I felt wierd (good weird just spelt a lil' different that's all, as if maybe I should be more reflective and wonderful rather than happy with Strobe Talbot level corruption) in Daniels Park the other day.

Guildofcannonballs said...

"He's not a member Grandma, he's just a caddy" is true.

And wonderful.

Owen said...

Lucid-Ideas: props to you. That comes from the core.

Look out or I’ll start with my Vietnam Memorial stuff.

Lucid-Ideas said...

Dan was my homeboy. I loved him. Which is fucked up these days because it's difficult for men to describe the fondness they have for other men without sounding gay. Wasn't nothing I wouldn't have done for that retard (yes...he was totally tarded and would've agreed with my assessment).

This is why war is so terrible and why long ago we instituted a system of laws - and checks and balances - designed to limit war's destructive power and provide an alternative to the constant internecine warfare of Europe in this country.

I am reminded of Sun Tzi's Art of war (translated),

War should be approached cautiously. For a country destroyed in war cannot be restored to its former self. And the dead cannot be returned to life.

Guildofcannonballs said...

Guinness EXTRA STOUT 5.6%

Guinness 3.8 or 4.2 I don't remember any Moe.

That's Irish Poe.

Guildofcannonballs said...

Okay my poetry.

You can't imagine any society that has done it better that didn't end.

Don't start nothing bad won't be nothing bad.

Let's see Spain in 20 years.

Denver voted 83-17 in 2018 when they came grabbing for us. Denver.

We all know they will spend everlasting hours preaching everlasting hate in Spain too, but does Buwaya think his little area in that little country will suffice? Of course not as he proudly, ego-driven commented about his little area of America.

We won't care or miss your $10,000,000+ it just is nothing overall.

But being an American is everything overall too, as Althouse would no doubt be labeled and label herself, undumbly.

David Begley said...

We met at the bar of the Casa Del Mar
The man from Nebraska
with the super great pitch
Buy my script
And we’ll all will get rich.

Guildofcannonballs said...

The only person that could supercede Trump as Man of the Century is Seth Rich, Washington-wise aka first originator creator.

He knew they would do what they did.

Eastwoods too old and nobody cares.

I will with shame recant my classification of Eastwood as "an opportunist libertine" which I thought at the time was accurate.

I was wrong.

Guildofcannonballs said...

Althouse has always had the ultimate Trump card:

It don't matter.

She's played it.

Why spend time refuting a 30 year position earned?

They system worked extremely well for Althouse, yes we now know know now, based on cunts cunting to the max cunts conspired they could cunt, Althouse thinks "hey why do these idiots ever to even pretend what I think". And period before or after the . she is right.

She won. Fair. People like her will continue to make rules, so why even bother to understand, much less dispute, the rules themselves io ipso they made?

CR said...

Contemporary poetry always sounds empty. There's nothing there. I don't believe their pens are discovering much.

The Minnow Wrangler said...

Thanks Lucid that was very nice. Sorry about your friend.

Are you in the winter moon,
I see it pale obscured by clouds,
less distant now than you from me,
I long to see your face.

Are you in the winter wind,
I hear it rushing through the trees,
Its cold hands now caressing me,
I long to feel your touch.

Are you in my winter dream,
When I am torn from sleep's embrace
You slip like smoke now from my mind
I long to be with you.

James K said...

First lines and last lines.

Yes. Yeats is one of my favorite poets, and while his first lines are good, it's the last lines that are most memorable.

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Phidippus said...

Very touching, Minnow Wrangler. Thank you.

I hope you find peace.

Guildofcannonballs said...

Daniels Park is some of the most apprecieative landscape ever landscaped.

Guildofcannonballs said...

Clint Eastwood has shown not bullcunted.

Big Mike said...

While unboxing from our last move I found the Kahlil Gibran poetry books I used to read and recite to my future wife back when we were young grad students working on STEM doctorates. She married me anyway. That was 45 years ago.

Nichevo said...

If they give you ruled paper, write the other way. - Juan Ramón Jiménez