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Jan Wood Poet Laureate15 Minute Adjustment:
Revising Poetry

Copyright ©2009 by Jan Wood

This is the first in a series of short articles in which Poet Laureate Jan Wood shares valuable tips for poets.

Revising Poetry: Opening Lines

Your opening line is the first “hook” for the reader
It sets the tone of the poem
It is the invitation into the poem

Quick Check:
Look at a poem you are working on and ask the following questions:

• Is my first line inviting?
• Is it interesting?
• Does it contain a sense of mystery or surprise that invites reading?

First line examples from Alden Nowlan’s work in his poetry collection, An Exchange of Gifts: Poems New and Selected, (Toronto: Irwin, 1985)

 Although it is nowhere mentioned in the gospels
(St. John with his head in the clouds would not have noticed)
          From "Between the Lines"

So many of my friends live in haunted houses that I have all but decided to install a ghost
          From "Ghost Stories"

There is nothing left but a silence so willful it becomes a presence
         From "Endings"

Beware of the nuns they’ll eat you alive
         From "Sister Mary Cecelia"

May God have mercy on the porcupine
          From "A Poem for Aida Flemmine"

God, I have sought you as a fox seeks chickens, curbing my hunger with cunning
          From "Sacrament"

Alden Nowlan: Canadian Poet 1933-1983
Some first lines in Nowlan’s own life were interesting and challenging also.

• He left school in grade 5 at the age of 12.
• He earned a living doing manual labour until he was 19.
• He learned journalism and began to win recognition as a journalist.
• He had published 5 books by 1963.
• He dealt with cancer and surgery in 1966.
• In 1967 he won the Governor General Award for his book, Bread Wine and Salt.
• In 1968 he was Writer in Residence for University of New Brunswick.
• He died at age 50 in 1983.


Interesting Sites Relating to First Lines

First Line Index

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