Writers spend a great deal of time tinkering with first sentences, first paragraphs, and the first previews of content shared with readers. Much importance is placed upon presenting the reader with writing that will compel them to read on and on. I think that as humans we also want something settled about beginnings, as that sets all that comes afterwards. This can be self defining and grounding for us as an individuals and authors. I presented the excerpt below to my classes with a question in mind. After reading these opening words which begin a novel, would they read on? They surprised me!
Apprentice to the Flower Poet Z Debra Weinstein
This is the story of how I came to momentary prominence in the world of poetry and, through a series of misunderstandings, destroyed my good name and became a nobody.
It was fall, my junior year.
Because I was eager and on scholarship, I was the student chosen to type the poems of the visiting professors. Because I was young, and maybe too hungry, they loved me the way my parents loved me.
What is poetry, I would ask myself, over and over, typing,
the sudden, half-chirped, pecked-hem of morning
my arthritic half-moon, far-reaching thought (?), spine (?)
And then in the margin, this note to me from the visiting professor, asking for advice on his poem: “Annabelle, which sounds better?” And I would think to myself, hmm, “far-reaching thought” or “far-reaching spine? Hard to know.
I want to say that my own poetry suffered from being exposed to so much bad writing, but my own poetry was free of chirping, hems, thoughts, and spines. It would be more accurate to say that I suffered. I felt like the lowest member of the poetry food chain, the one who sits at the foot of the goddess simply because it’s the natural order of things.