Sunday 18th December 2016


How (not) to begin a poem

Helena Nelson

The first three or four lines of a poem are make-or-break territory.
If you hook the reader firmly at the start, she’ll follow you willingly right through to the very last syllable.
The poem is one long fishing line (usually with line breaks). The reader is a rainbow trout. The poet’s art is to play that fish and reel it in.

But the first few lines may well be where the fishing line, at least in its early drafts, fails.
They’re where the poet is still unpacking her kit, getting ready for Real Poem action. They’re where the poet is most likely to include phrases like ‘I remember’ or ‘I think’. Or ‘As I see the dew on the hollyhocks, I…’ Don’t do it!
The old prose writer’s trick is to delete the first paragraph and start with the second, where things are getting interesting.
I find myself suggesting this often for poems too.
Delete the first stanza? Try starting with the second.
Maybe delete the first three lines? Consider starting with line four.
In fact I scribble this so frequently that it may be worth trying with all poems, just to see how far the opening lines, as they stand, matter.
Then there’s the tangled line. By this, I mean a poem that opens with a lengthy sentence, spreading over several breaks, and it’s just difficult. So it’s like getting stuck in the reeds with a distant view of clear water.
Or the poem that hurls in a really odd break at the end of the first or second line. Jumps and challenges are fun, but not too soon.
Or the opening lines set up a metrical pattern. Or they seem to. And then the pattern drops. So it wasn’t a pattern at all. The disappointed fish is off the hook and floundering.
I’m talking in the abstract. Much better to give examples from my creel.
But I don’t have time in this most pressurised month of the year – and besides, the poets wouldn’t like it.
I have more poems to go and read. Many many more. And other fish to fry.

Spurs 2 Burnley 1

Danny Rose scored a superb winner as we recovered from conceding an early opener to overcome Burnley and round off our home games in 2016 with a 2-1 win at White Hart Lane on Sunday afternoon.The visitors went ahead somewhat against the run of play when Ashley Barnes benefitted from a fortunate rebound off Mousa Dembele in the area and slotted past Hugo Lloris on 21 minutes, but we were level six minutes later when Kyle Walker’s low cross was turned in by Dele Alli.


We were enjoying the majority of possession and Burnley needed their England goalkeeper Tom Heaton to keep them in the game as he made good saves from Harry Kane and two from Christian Eriksen in the second half, but he could do nothing about our winning goal.

With 19 minutes remaining, substitute Moussa Sissoko led the charge forward before finding Rose in the left channel of the area and our England left-back rifled his shot past Heaton – a deserved goal after a fine individual display from the 26-year-old.


There were one or two nervy moments towards the end as Burnley looked to get the ball forward quickly but overall we dealt with their threats without too many problems, although Lloris needed safe hands to gather Andre Gray’s cross as Sam Vokes almost got a touch. The final whistle blew shortly afterwards, though, and a second home win in four days was in the bag.



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