On the Prowl

*Before I move on to more important matters, allow me to address my previous post. Blogging is like one giant and very public venting session, an open-audience spilling-of-guts. And the result of this last one is this: okay, okay—I get it. Perhaps my bad attitude got the best of me. The general consensus seems to be that I am a total wussy about having to be a 9-to-5-er, and need to buck up. After venting my frustrations and pity-party details the other day, I received more than just a few reminders that just because I have been spoiled rotten in the work realm over the last few years, does not mean I get to languish in self-pity over my current work situation. I hear you all loud and clear! I am lucky to have such honest and loving friends and family members who never hesitate to put me back in my place. Consider my attitude check completed.

After just a few productive days and nights and a little time to myself over this weekend, I have to say that I am back to feeling like myself again, and have felt the creative surges begin to rise back up to acceptable levels. I even managed to crank out a new poem late last night after a full day of work, two dog park runs, cooking dinner, yard work, marketing research/special event planning, AND house cleaning. I was right—my writing life always finds a way to work itself into whatever I’m doing. I just needed to trust that my passion for the written word would prevail over all these changes and adjustments. Lesson learned. Happy little Tbone is back on the literary prowl. Huzzah!*

 

And speaking of, I’ve been thinking this weekend about killer opening lines. I started re-reading Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian in order to engage in a literary analysis discussion with a good friend of mine who is also reading it for the second time. I noticed upon this reading how commanding the first few lines of Blood Meridian are. As my writing partner, Kelly will tell you, I love it when the speaker or narrator of a story or poem  gets bossy, tells me what to do or think. I love how when McCarthy writes, “See the child. He is pale and thin, he wears a think and ragged linen shirt. He stokes the scullery fire,” I have no choice but to see that child in my mind. I am instantly invested.

It is the job of a writer to hook the reader with that very first line; think about it–if a book begins with a boring opening paragraph, will you bother to read any further? Course not. Certainly it is much easier said than done to craft a killer opening line, and I’m always looking for writing techniques that help grab the reader’s attention from the get-go. Sometimes it is the shocking that cements our attention, sometimes it is the quiet. And very often it is what lies in between, but what is consistent in all successful beginning is some element that places the reader inside that moment. I’ve done endings here before, so it only seems fitting that at this beginning of a new phase in my own life, I pay tribute to some inspirational openers. And though this list could certainly go on forever and ever, I will try to keep my favorite openers from poems, novels, and nonfiction somewhat brief:

From Jack Gilbert’s poem, “Bethrothed:”

You hear yourself walking on the snow.
You hear the absence of the birds.
A stillness so complete, you hear
the whispering inside of you.

Jane Campion’s The Piano:

The voice you hear is not my speaking voice, but my mind’s voice.

I have not spoken since I was six years old. No one knows why. Not even me. My father says it is a dark talent and the day I take it into my head to stop breathing will be my last.

Sylvia Plath’s poem, “Cut:”

What a thrill—
My thumb instead of an onion.
The top quite gone
Except for a sort of hinge
of skin,
a flap like a hat,
Dead white.

Jeanette Winterson’s Weight:

The free man never thinks of escape.

In the beginning there was nothing. Not even space and time. You could have thrown the universe at me and I would have caught it in one hand. There was no universe. It was easy to bear.

This happy nothing ended fifteen aeons ago. It was a strange time, and what I know is told to me in radioactive whispers; that’s all there is left of one great shout into the silence.

Caleb Barber’s “Piebald Birth on Josie’s Makeshift Farm:”

He went into the vagina with a fistful
of orange bailing twine, and fished around
for awhile, up to his elbows
in chunky blood, until he had it good
and knotted on the back legs of the lamb.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides:

I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.

May Sarton’s “Death and the Turtle:”

I watched the turtle dwindle day by day,
Get more remote, lie limp upon my hand;
When offered food he turned his head away;
The emerald shell grew soft.

Wallace Stevens’ “The Snow Man:”

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun

April Lindner’s “First Kiss:”

This collision of teeth, of tongues and lips,
is like feeling for the door
in a strange room, blindfolded.

Jonathan Johnson’s Hannah and the Mountain:

A home pregnancy test sits on the windowsill. We sit on the edge of the bed, hunched over the woodstove in our coats and stocking hats. A light breeze ripples the plastic tacked over the openings where the windows will go. Pink dawn is rising over the mountain, first light falling on the most snow this valley has seen in fifty years of early Decembers.

                Three minutes. We hold each other and shiver.

Alice Walker’s The Color Purple:

 You better not never tell nobody but God.

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2 thoughts on “On the Prowl

  1. One of my favorite novel first lines is from the catcher in the rye. :
    If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

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