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A feast of first lines

Wordsworth manuscript

First lines. Ack! It’s worse than a job interview. You have 2 seconds to make an impression. Or something like that.

Do you find yourself going back to the first line and re-writing because it’s just not strong enough? And as a reader, do you ever read the first line and immediately your mind says ‘uh oh’ and you’ve already got a prediction in your head of where it’s going? I know I do both of these things, and more. After the title, the first line has to be pretty good, do you agree?

In a moment of stupor I thought I would try to finally CRACK the first line thing by doing some research. Ha ha! The appliance of science – always worth a try!

So I dutifully recorded all the first lines from every poem in The Rialto 74. Call me crazy if you like, but it was a fun exercise. And the resulting list of 55 first lines actually reads like a poem in itself, although I don’t think even the (theoretical) love child of Selima Hill and Sam Riviere could come up with this. (Love them both though! No offence intended! But they can be pretty left-field!)

So here we go. If this is a breach of copyright, I apologise – all credit to the poets, but if anyone would like their line pulled from this post, on the grounds of non-attribution, please say.

Hard to think about infinity

We’re the lucky ones

The postman listens to Roxy Music on her iPod nano

Down with poetry! It’s all over the place

We lean into the soft brake BLUES

Some people are bad for the soul. Avoid them.

In the museum-without-proprietor

The bound book lay open on the desk

At least you can sleep, folding us and the hours

You’ll have had me, the view of me, down on the sand

At the high pass, forward scouts report,

You are welcome, you arrive to embraces and chatter

There’s a red spot in the centre of today

Laura shows up in time to have to wait

I reflect on their defects. They give me

spine faded, pages yellowed, corners turned down

What would you do if I died right now, here, you asked,

Until recently we were very pleased with Roger.

We were litte upstarts; our causes imperceptible, inflamed

The bathtub, the Frigidaire, the gilded tap,

We learn why things happen

The inn on the Tokaido Road has

Standing at the sink

The others are glad not to be the corpse

are discussing provocation: holding law up to the light.

Across the road the decorators have finished;

In the last August of the war, my

Dear little damp foot

Really I want to keep this to myself

You tell that story again

A girl is two eggs waiting to be a cake, or a sun; Our Father going round and round in her song.

How the heart wire snapped and on the loose my heart

Wriggling, it pulls. The tip of the tail

Robert makes two cups of tea

Each of my poems is

And this too will pass into spring

You tie my scarf so it drapes like Madonna’s,

It is not the rusting of summer into inevitable

A man coughs like a box

I am an old book troglodyte

For years nobody had been to the library

Make do with my father, speeding

Love was the boy you broke up with years ago

Grief was the flash bloke with the bleached teeth

The smell of bonfires. Autumn in the garden.

I’m sat on a bench on the promenade

And how many men are stood like this in their socks

I ride the famous tourist bus for hours,

He’d forgotten he had his father’s pistol.

He’d never seen such a horse before:

I’m not malicious though have scarred a woman

The stone in me speaks directly into the eyes of a toad

We drive until there are no more mirrors.

We finish and you sigh and gaze up into my eyes

After breakfast I clipped the peonies

(image credit: British Library)

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Robin Houghton 2021
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