A poem’s beginning should be striking and compelling, urgent and invigorating. A reader should want to continue to the next line, and finish the rest of your work. The first line of any piece of poetry not only has a stake in deciding its artistic merit, but also its commercial value. If your first line isn’t interesting enough, no one will bother with the rest. No pressure.
But as a writer, more often than not, your first line simply represents the struggle of making a start, of beating the crisis of the blank Word document, the I-Don’t-Know-What-I’m-Doing stage of any new project. So here are ten great first lines of poetry I collected so that you can analyze what makes them stand out, get inspired to start writing, or simply admire some of the openers to your favorite poems.
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
-Elizabeth Barret Browning
Because I could not stop for Death
Let us go then, you and I
People disappear. And go looking for a place to be looked at.
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary
-Edgar Allen Poe
We were very tired, we were very merry
-Edna St. Vincent Millay
I would like to watch you sleeping
Drink to me only with thine eyes
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky
Written by Sanvitti S.
Hi, everyone! Today's post is just a celebration of our previous Monthly Contest winners - check out the Monthly Contest blog tab above to see the latest winners. The theme for the month of October was "Disguise." Our writing contest was won by Daniel Koh's "We Need to Talk About the Lack of STEM Representation in the Humanities." Our art contest was won by Justin Bishop's "Who's The Fairest of Them All." You can check out these incredible pieces on the Monthly Contest page.
The monthly contest for November is live, and the prompt is "Horoscope." Check out the event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/282551465585285/. The deadline is November 20th at 11:59PM. We look forward to reading your submissions, everyone!!
Writing is hard. Really Hard. Debatably, it is more difficult than doing any Chemistry Problem Set or memorizing any Biology PowerPoint. I can say that. I’m a biochemistry major. Writing is mentally taxing. It’s a boxing match that lasts 12 rounds, a test of endurance yet simultaneously a test of skill. You against the paper. You against your pen. And you against your mind. A whirlwind of ideas jostling for your attention, words that refuse to fit the way you want, the frustration of trying to make your metaphor work when it really doesn’t. And when that final bell rings, you collapse exhausted, emptied of everything you have. All you did was type 2500 words in Times New Roman in Microsoft Word. But you feel like you just fought a battle. And after a few moments of glorying in your work, you get up and do it all again. Once again facing a terrifying opponent, a blank page, racking your brain for some sort of halfway decent concoction of thoughts. To put your convoluted musings down to paper in a coherent manner.
As Nathaniel Hawthorne said, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” And knowing this, I still write. Why? Am I a masochist along with all the other writers in the world? I hope not. “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people” – Thomas Mann. There is something intrinsically wonderful about this struggle. This struggle against my own thoughts, this civil war in my heads that bleeds out onto in a stream of words, inky black dots marrying with the cream paper. Or more likely, hundreds of tiny pixels glowing on my MacBook screens. There is a something inside me that is fighting to be released, to finally be set free and allowed to explore the world. It slowly builds, bubbling up until it can no longer be contained. And though the process of releasing it can be painful, it is a process that must occur. And it is a process that must not only occur me for me, but for thousands of other writers and poets around the world. This inner desire ultimately overcomes the fear of failure and the struggle to create.
And so I force myself to write. Or not really me, but something inside me. Something drives me forward, an unwilling slave. Sometimes I would gladly relinquish this feeling for the peace and comfort and constancy of a Physics Pledge Problem, but I am unable. Instead I gravitate to the uncertainty and potential of a blank page. It may be terrifying, but it is also enthralling. So even when I don’t feel like opening up a new document, or creating a new note, I force myself to. Because nothing good comes easy, and though the process may be painful, the end result is wonderful. At least some of the time.
I don’t know if this was easy reading, but it was damn hard writing.
Written by Joshua A.
“It’s pointless. You’ve only been here for a year and hardly know anyone.” That was the reaction of my friends when I asked them whether I should run for the Student Class President elections. In retrospect, they had a point; my chances of winning the election were worse than of me getting an A in Physics. But sticking to the true stubborn nature of an Aries, I went forward with it anyway.
Were they right in predicting that I’m not going to be elected for the position? Yes. But where they right when they said “it’s pointless”? Not quite.
From the very beginning, we are taught that rejection is bad. Failure is for losers, and no one wants to be the underdog. I used to strictly adhere to that ideology, that is, until the end of my freshman year.
The Student Class President election comprised of the whole grade of 700+ kids voting to choose their class representative for the next year. Now, you can see how it’d be hard for a kid who barely knows 30 of them to win an election like this. But somehow, that didn’t stop me.
My friends, although initially reluctant, quickly hoped onto the idea of me running for the election. We spent multiple sleepovers together working on stickers and speeches. According to the rules, each candidate got two weeks to campaign around schools, which included hanging billboard size posters from every wall in the cafeteria to enthusiastically chanting campaign slogans through the hallways during passing periods. I still remember mine: “Life, Liberty, and better vending machine.”
During these weeks, I got a lot of support from not only my immediate friends but also other people who I’d barely interacted with previously. The sheer amount of people I got to know through campaigning was surprising. This helped me realize that the biggest mistake one can make is to always staying in his or her own bubble. Had I been complacent, shy or lethargic and not stood up for the election, my high school experience would not have been half as dynamic as it was.
At the ending of the two weeks, came the daunting “Election Day”. Excited. Anxious. Scared. These were just a few emotions running through me that day. Throughout lunch, people casted their votes and at the end of the excruciatingly long day, the winner was revealed to be….John Doe.
Words cannot express how defeated I felt that day. I remember numerous people trying to make me feel better, but even with all this support, I couldn’t help feeling disappointed in myself. Was I not funny enough? Was I too loud? What did I do wrong? I felt like I’d taken 3 steps back. However, the next morning when I reached school, I saw that I recognized a lot more faces down the corridor. Students and teachers started to see me as someone more approachable now and I had gone from being the shy girl to someone more extroverted and involved. So even though, this was a failure in my life, I still choose to write about it today because in the long run, it taught me that it’s not failure but rather the fear of it that brings us down. So let’s not be afraid of failing, for failure is just success in disguise.
Written by Diksha G.
Two weeks ago, late on Friday night, I found myself sitting on the edge of the stage in the basement at Sid Rich college. The walls, bright red as they are, somehow told me this was a good place to be that night. The echoes of the space were somehow a comfort where the music bounced around the few bodies inside. At around 11:30, there were already only four of us left in the room, taking in the dimness and the emptiness where before had been light and music and chatter. And it felt good. Really, really good.
This was a space whose existence I’d discovered barely three weeks earlier—it is now a space where I remember one of the greatest nights of my time at Rice so far. There hadn’t been a party; no solo cups, LED lights, or beer-sticky floors and bodies. What we had was the result of an idea, three weeks of hard work, and Cavity’s first student art show of the academic year.
Cavity, a small coalition of student artists and art-lovers, was a concept placed in our hands by three upperclassmen who, in a space of two weeks last spring, did more for student art at Rice than anyone else had for a long, long time. It was—and is—the result of minds coming together to do something where there was a need for it. Not just chatter and idealism, but walls and bodies in real time. Where Rice University turned away from providing us with the time and space for student art that so many of us want, they said we won’t stand it.
One night during dead days in the spring, they proved that they meant what they said, and on that night two weeks ago, in a place as seemingly unlikely as Sid’s basement, we proved it again. We found a space and made one of the most powerful connections I’ve ever felt—student to student, all of us who wanted to fill that space together. It was small, but it was ours, and it was covered to every aspect of its capacity with the things we all created. On those crazy red, black, and yellow walls there were paintings, drawings, collages, photographs, projections, lights, and words. There was a dance performance, a journal to draw on, a stage anyone could step up to and make something of their own (they painted furniture we’d literally picked up off the streets, and let me tell you, it looks pretty damn cool). A sculpture hung from the ceiling, and even the empty air around our heads eventually became full as students DJ-ed and beatboxed throughout the night. It was all ours. I’ll never get over how exciting that was, honestly.
No, it wasn’t easy, and it was far from perfect. It was a lot of running around helplessly, taking the longer way around, some canvases falling off walls, and a few messes (we somehow ended up with Oreo cheesecake and Oreos). It wasn’t neat or glamorous, but the beauty of it, and what I’m here to write about, wasn’t in that. It was in the people who—when we thought about student art and said this is something we care about—responded with hey, we do, too, and proved it. That was all it took, and it was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever felt. It was a kind of comradeship unlike any other, the feeling of bringing something to life, to live alongside the things other minds brought to life, and watching them all run off together and be.
I think, in the end, that it was an art in itself, and it was all thanks to all of you, who heard us and listened.
Thank you for filling that space with us.
There is more to come, and it is always for you.
Written by Ana Paula P.
I couldn’t think of anything interesting to write for this post, so I thought I would just post a bunch of pictures of my dog, instead. His name is Walter, and he’s a very good boy. If he went to Rice, I’m sure he would be an English major (I think he has very good taste in books, based on what he’s chewed up). I think some countries in Europe even celebrate November as National Dog Month, so hey, turns out this is topically relevant too!
Text + Photos by Matthew A.
In this day and age, poetic form gets a bad rap. Somewhere along the line, free verse poems became considered modern poetry, and everything else kind of fell by the literary wayside. Sonnets are for Shakespeare, rhymes are for kids, and when was the last time anyone cared about a trochee, anyway?
Free verse poems are great, but I’ve always been drawn to fixed form poetry. So today, I thought I’d share one of my favorite forms with you. (Yes, hello, it’s me: the annoying girl in your English class who raises her hand to talk about the significance of enjambment).
Here, have a villanelle done by a master. This is “Mad Girl’s Love Song” by Sylvia Plath:
"I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
God topples from the sky, hell's fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan's men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
I fancied you'd return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)"
Haunting, right? Part of the reason this poem works so well is its form. See the way she repeats some of the lines throughout the poem? This is traditionally represented as:
A1 b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 A2
A1 and A2 are those repeated lines. Lower-case a and b are for rhyme scheme. Her “a” lines rhyme on “dead, head, red” and her “b” lines on “again, in, men”. This interlocking of rhyme scheme and repetition makes a villanelle easy to spot.
Other examples of villanelles you may know include “Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas and “If I Could Tell You” by W. H. Auden.
Forms make you think about words in a different way. When you have limited mobility in one dimension, you have to get creative with the others. In the case of the villanelle, what’s limited is how many different lines and rhymes you have to work with. What’s not limited? Subject matter, meter, voice...the list goes on. Using forms is a great writing exercise because it forces you outside your comfort zone.
Here’s a challenge for you: try writing a villanelle. Plath wrote “Mad Girl’s Love Song” in college, after all, so why not give it a go? It doesn’t have to be your favorite thing you’ve ever written, but I guarantee you’ll be surprised by what you come up with.
Written by Megan G.
Sometimes, artists and writers are told that the way to make our leisure activities legitimate is to turn them into work. In order to become a real writer, the saying goes, you have to write every day. I wholeheartedly hold this to be true, but it’s more engrained than that. When people tell me I’m “talented,” I tend to quip that the only talent I have is the ability to want to write every day, and the discipline, built up over many years, to actually do so. The hunger to be writing, as acute and disastrous as my caffeine addiction, is my biggest asset. I am a real writer not because I treat it like work, but because I genuinely feel more psychologically secure and content when I have spent time writing. My leisure has the consistency of work, which is why other people accept it as legitimate.
Yet there is the looming opposition, the force of finances. While we artists are told to convert our leisure into work, we are also told to discard it, and turn what has become our work into mere leisure. “You should be an Economics major, and get a career in consulting,” as it were, “because you can still do art on the side.” Or, to be more blatant, “You should focus on getting a job and find time to write on the side.” This mantra of on the side, on the side, delegitimizes the claim that art of all mediums is done well when it has become work. Art, in this on the side view, maintains that you can be good at art, and enjoy art, in a minimal timeframe. That if you are truly talented, you can make it work. This notion that art should be a hobby, or a pastime, kind of strips the ability for writers and artists of all types to prioritize the very thing they want to do. And as a result, it becomes that much more difficult to turn on the side, this leisure project, into work, which is a necessary step of improvement and enjoyment.
So: in order to get good at an art form, you have to turn it into work; in order to turn your art form into work, you have to acquire time. In order to acquire time, you have to turn your art form into leisure (to make money). We’re facing a bit of a crisis.
Still, there are some ways to adjust to this crisis-type time frame, strategies for attacking this sort of reality. This is why I’m actually a big fan of things like Inktober, NaNoWriMo, and the accompanying NaPoWriMo, programs that gather writers and artists and poets and create a schedule of accountability for turning leisure into work. You can’t participate in one of these three sort of activities (or any other sort) and expect amazing work out of them. All the same, these programs take time out of the equation when it comes to developing habits. Inktober, for instance, requires one piece a day. Why stop in the month of October? And if a piece a day means the pieces aren’t very good, well, you’ve still gotten in the habit of carving out a slice of time, so keep that time alive.
It’s not quite a perfect solution – we still all must face the gripping questions of financial stability, and the markets aren’t shifting in the direction of elevating all artists to financial glory any time soon. Still, the way to adjusting with any scenario is to put tools in your tool kit. Establishing long-term discipline and habits is a harder task than it seems, and it doesn’t seem as enticing as the possibility that one day, you’ll wake up and be able to write/paint/draw/whatever the next cultural touchstone of a generation. But the long-term strategy, in my opinion, is the way to stay highly aware of the way art is being relegated to the position of the fries that come with your hamburger, and to remind yourself – my art is work, too. I’m the kind of person that orders a hamburger just to eat fries anyways; at least until I can get to the point where I’m exclusively ordering fries.
Written by Erika S.
You can’t just put -tober at the end of everything during October, they said.
It’s the end of October, it’s too late to make another -tober a thing, they said.
There’s already too darn many -tobers, it’ll just be lame, they said.
But who cares what people say.
If you’re reading this, odds are you’re interested in getting and/or staying woke. And it’s a good bet you also like to read. So, dear reader, let me welcome you to… Stay-Woketober!
In honor of Stay-Woketober, the spookiest of -tobers and one I’m aware is not an original creation, I’ve compiled a list of books (and one podcast) that may get you a bit more woke—and they’ll be a nice, well-deserved break from midterms, too.
by Shailja Patel
Shailja Patel is a an internationally acclaimed performance artist and poet, and Migritude is her writing debut: a hybrid of historical narrative, intimate monologue, and powerful poetry, Migritude tells of Patel’s struggle as an Kenyan immigrant living in England who’s trying to connect to her roots while also developing her own identity. It’s a mind-bending read that breaks genres and interweaves stories about British colonialism, silk saris, and Patel’s childhood into a seamless, gorgeous narrative that offers a whole new perspective on culture and immigration.
2. A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner
by Khaled Hosseini
Set in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime, Hosseini’s books focus on the strict gender roles and religious struggles of Afghans growing up in the war-torn streets of Kabul. The Kite Runner deals with masculinity and morality, while A Thousand Splendid Suns focuses on female empowerment and liberation in the midst of oppression. Both novels are powerfully written against the broader background of Afghan culture and history, and touch upon issues that remain relevant even today.
3. Conversations with People who Hate Me
A nonfiction podcast by Welcome to Night Vale’s queer activist and journalist extraordinaire, Dylan Marron, this show follows Marron as he contacts people who’ve posted hatefully about him online to try and get them to answer a simple question—why? From homophobes to racists, Marron takes you on his journeys to find the humans on the other side of the screen. With an equal focus on social justice and explaining the phenomenon of hate-speech, this podcast is a must-hear.
4. The Handmaid’s Tale
by Margaret Atwood
Brought back into the spotlight by the brilliant Hulu miniseries (and the election of a certain president), Atwood’s classic dystopian novel shows what happens when religious fervor, declining birth rates, and a now terrifyingly realistic authoritarian regime combine. Atwood’s sharp prose and captivating world-building keep you on the edge of your seat as you join Offred in the nightmare of having no civil, political, nor reproductive rights just for being a woman, and the silent acts of rebellion that ensue. Sound familiar?
That’s all for today, folks. Hope you enjoy, and if you do, pass it on. You never know who’s eyes you might end up opening. Happy Stay-Woketober! Read on, stay woke, and beware Gilead.
Written by Mariana N.
In high school, I stumbled across a blog article called “Slow Practice for String Players.” In it, Hilary Hahn, an American violinist who performs around the world, explains not only that slow practice is important, but also what slow practice actually means.
While stringed instruments and pen/paper/keyboard are physically quite different from each other, I’ve been thinking about how slow practice might apply to writing—especially in midterm season. First, Hahn advises starting from the beginning: “play everything in slow motion.” Slow motion is what writing a first draft feels like to me. However, unlike Hahn, I don’t choose to write it that way.
The next step is to play the notes slowly, but include shifts, note changes, and string crossings at normal speed. She calls this the ability to play slowly but “move between” at tempo. It seems like checking the gears and making sure they function. Or moving with the flow of ideas, to make sure they’re communicated clearly (or hopefully clearly enough).
She adds that body position cannot be overlooked. Posture isn’t only for dancers or finishing school pupils. I can’t help but think of this literally, but I also feel that this aspect of slow string practice can be translated in writing as balance, perspective, knowing when to go for run around the outer loop before coming back for a second foray into tangled sentences.
Her last tip, which she calls “icing on the cake” is paying attention to phrasing and musicality. She writes, “My teachers taught me that technical prowess and musicality are inextricably connected.” One of my professors recently said to honor your own fascination as a writer. In slow practice for writers, I see these two ideas as intertwined. Just as I love to play music musically, I love to write what I love to read. This might be the icing on the cake, but we all know a cake wouldn’t be much of a cake without its icing (at least for a cupcake).
Although the analogy between slow practice for writers and string players isn’t perfect, thinking about sentences and paragraphs like notes and phrases reminds me that, in many ways, academic writing is art. Maybe it’s a good thing that writing first drafts come slowly. Maybe revision, like practice, can be creative in itself.
Here’s Hilary Hahn’s original article: http://hilaryhahn.com/2004/01/slow-practice-for-string-players/
Her other articles under “favorites” also include “How to Pass Time Alone in a Hotel Room,” “Things to Watch in an Orchestra Concert,” and how to make a costume for your instrument when you’re bored.
Written by Sarah W.