Poetry As Fuel for Prose


April is National Poetry Month, an event well worth celebrating. I often find myself inspired by half-remembered poems and have lately spent a lot of happy hours finding the perfect quote to set off a chapter as an epigraph.

To me, a few lines of poetry can be great for establishing mood and tone, offering a clue, or adding resonance to prose. Not everyone enjoys epigraphs-- I've had editors forbid their use at "distracting," but I think those who dislike them usually skip them, so why omit them and deprive like-minded readers of another layer of meaning?

How do you feel about quotes and bits of poetry used as epigraphs on chapters? Love 'em, hate 'em, or skip 'em entirely?

Today, I leave you with a poem from which I recently quoted, which inspired me to read much more of Plath's work.


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.)

Comments

Joni Rodgers said…
Oh, I love that one! I'd almost forgotten. Almost. I just had a bittersweet (and undeniably mad) pang of being 15 again. Thanks for posting that.
jamiebabette said…
I love quotes and poetry bits used as epigraphs on chapters. I agree on how they add another layer of meaning. In my own writing I like to use them as prompts along the way as I'm writing the first draft.
Thanks for sharing the poem. It's been awhile since I read any of Plath's work.
Dorothy Hagan said…
Attaching quotes to the beginning of each chapter is one of the most fun things for me. I love to search Bartlett's Quotations for that perfect quote. Readers have said "How did you ever get that great quote?" for a specific chapter theme. Only one agent commented. She said my quotes were "over the heads" of my readers. I begged to differ.
Nothing good ever came of underestimating your audience, I think. I think people know when they're being talked down to. And people can tell, too, when someone loves the work they're doing. Enthusiasm shines through.