Writing Mini-Lessons: Engaging Beginnings/Leads, Begin Inside

In the words of Horace, one of the greatest lyric poets of all time (65 B.C. – 8 B.C.), begin poems “in the midst of things.” Start your poems inside an experience, feeling, observation, or memory.  Do the same thing with prose.

One of the differences between writing poetry and writing prose is that with poetry, there is not the same need to establish a detailed context (all of the who, what, why, when, where of prose). Poetry thrives on the compactness of the form and the nuance and ambiguity that allow the reader to build resonant interpretations. Poems also thrive on their immediacy, so to engage the reader, begin your poem by diving right into the heart of the moment. Beginning inside is a great technique to know for first drafts, but it is also an important consideration in revision. Once you’ve put your ideas and feelings down on the page, read through your poem again, paying careful attention to the first line or two, or perhaps even the first stanza. Ask yourself, have I begun in the midst of things?

Read the following poems. Reflect on the beginnings and how these poems could be considered to “begin inside.” Share your thinking with a partner or a small group.

Journey

On the way home
it rained.
It rained as it can only
in summer—
a shower that brings mosquitoes
and heat,
a downpour when the sky
doesn’t darken.

It rained like needles
falling from a pine tree
deep in the forest—
that silently—
like a dream only
one person has
and only once.

On the way home
it rained like
someone
somewhere
needed a rainbow,
and maybe they were
going to get one.

And I reached home.
And maybe the someone
was me.

~ Anne Atwell-McLeod

Boy’s Life

somewhere out there
is a boy
who can bench one-fifty without effort
but as far as I’m concerned
it will never be me

showing no emotion
he’s the captain
of the football team
who won’t leave the field
until he’s blinded by his own blood

cheering mindlessly
he’s the number one fan
of TV wrestlers
who love to hear
the loudest crunch

one day
he’ll encounter the real world
and realize what it means
for a man to be
strong

~ Nat Herz