Begin Again-ings

"The Fine Art of Flipping" is a recent article on the Poetry Foundation's website where Jeff Gordinier details a few good books he has found by flipping through random pages, and reading it I was reminded of how I will often decide on a certain book this way, especially books of poetry by writers I'm not familiar with. And while mentioning unfamiliar writers, I believe giving those writers a few minutes of our time, even if it is just a flip, to be an area where we can all improve. It is very easy to Google a best-selling list, or ask which titles are popular at the local bookstore, but finding a book on your own that grips you with just a few lines can open literary doors that all too often remain closed.

Gordinier describes his interest in the opening lines of poems: "I look for an opening line that teases me, haunts me, or slaps me across the face: I’m a journalist by training, so I am susceptible to the impact of a great lead." Journalist or not, the beginning lines of a poem, especially when just "flipping," are crucial to the entertainment value on which an entire book can be judged.

The word "entertainment" should not make you cringe when thinking about literature; we read because we seek entertainment on a large scale, where learning and mindless disconnect are at opposite ends. It is true that a book can be and often is made more "readable" to tip the scale, but that issue is too abstract to place in this post. Most importantly in terms of writing, we must make our opening lines–prose or poetry–equal to our best lines in order to fulfill one of the larger goals of writing: to connect with another person.

This is not to reduce writing into an advertisement gimmick, but to show the importance of first impressions. First lines aren't everything, but they can be for a reader flipping through your book. So, as we all head to the local bookstore, and if you are in St. Louis, MO I encourage you to visit my former place of employment and all around awesome shop Subterranean Books, flip around a few unknowns and give one a chance.

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