The first line of a poem is always the hardest for me.
It’s the line most in danger of sounding corny, awkward, stilted, flamboyant or simply wrong. So assuming I’m not the only one who often hates the first line of their poem, I have a couple ideas of how to switch your poem up and make your first line strong.
Note these suggestions are most effective if you are not working with a strict poetic form.
1) Start your poem without stressing about the first line. Once you are satisfied with the poem, take out the first line. Yes, delete it completely and leave your second line as your first. I usually find my confidence builds and the flow of the poem improves as I write; my first line tends to be tentative and the direction of the poem often changes.
2) Take a line from within your poem and use it to replace the first line. You can then delete your first line, or move it somewhere else. Why don’t you try swapping your first and last line…
3) Write your first line in different ways, switch up the arrangement of the words or take out words that make the line clunky, or prevent it from rolling off your tongue.
4) Move part of your sentence to the next line. Continuing a line on the next line transforms the way your poem looks and sounds, and deepens the meaning that can be derived from the poem.
5) Develop the first line. Often the line just needs a little work, a metaphor here, some alliteration there. Go wild!
Below is an example of the first and final draft of a poem I wrote in 2011: Mr Carpenter.
Mr Carpenter: Draft 1
Dark, long, rugged
Slamming wood against wood with hammer
Woodnymphs dancing up dust as they run
What are you making with those bare cut up hands?
Those hands stop creating to ask what I would like them to do.
Mr Carpenter: Draft 3
Rugged with memories of cuts and bruises,
Dark as though you had absorbed the sun, long
like the rest of your body.
Slamming wood against wood with hammer,
Wishing they would grip me instead, ground
me into the ground.
What do you make with those bare cut-up hands?
So absorbed are you, you forget
I’m even here.
Note that I didn’t get rid of my first line. I took each word and developed it in a line of its own. I added more depth to the description and doing this allowed me to develop the poem as a whole.