I can’t quite explain how this works, but there comes a point in a lot of books I work on where poetry asserts itself on the author or me or both of us at once. I don’t know exactly when it happens or what causes what, but I know a book is in good shape when I’m trying to justify three pages of epigraphs to myself (I’ve never yet let it go quite that far).
Some recent examples:
- The Freak Observer: “Stars at Tallapoosa” by Wallace Stevens
- Catch & Release: “The Song of Wandering Aengus” by W. B. Yeats
- A Wounded Name: “The Hosting of the Sidhe” by W. B. Yeats.
- Anything by Wallace Stevens in any conversation of five minutes or more with Andrew Smith. (See his “Green Screen” in Losing It.)
- No Crystal Stair: “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes.
And I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting.
One marvelous example is top of mind this morning (because of some good news), and that’s Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian. We did cram two poems onto the epigraph page. The first is a bit of Larkin’s masterpiece “This Be the Verse,” which is joyous little ditty everyone should memorize. But much more amazing in its resonance is a poem Carrie had associated with the book from early days, a poem called “The Lake” by Michael Hettich. It’s a magnificent piece, and it does a subtle dance with Carrie’s book that pleases me every time I think of it. You can read it all in the front of Sex & Violence or in The Sun Magazine.