poetry, Uncategorized

The First Line Epiphany


Scholars might argue with me, but I would be willing to bet that an awful lot of William Shakespeare’s writing began when he had a sudden realization of a great first line.

We poets know how it is: You’re mowing your yard, taking out the trash, or doing some other mundane chore when suddenly WHAM-O — a great first line just sort of strikes like lightning. You write it down in your pocket notebook, and when you come back to it later, that first line serves as a catalyst for some much bigger piece.

Sometimes these first lines survive in the final draft, sometimes they don’t. No matter why those primary words strike us as they do, they almost always reap great rewards. Even if those initial ideas get culled, the work they produce tends to be refreshing, inspired, and original.

Sometimes the first lines occur because of weird word combinations; things like “nuclear neurology” or “concrete coffee” tickle our fancy. Other times, it may be a random statement from a stranger that rings with a certain poetic something.

One time, a student of mine informed me that “The ice cream trucks in our neighborhood only play Christmas carols.” While the exact iteration of his words didn’t survive in my later poem’s final draft, the concept of a summertime ice cream truck tooling about playing “Jingle Bells” was too irresistible to refuse. It became “Merry Summer,” a sonnet-like piece written from the perspective of a boy waiting to hear the warbled yuletide tunes of the dirty, somewhat questionable ice cream truck.

First line epiphanies are some of my favorites. There’s always such a bright hope and a brilliant promise that comes with an entire line coming into consciousness. When we have a start, we’re obliged to build toward an end. Think I’ll go mow the lawn and see what strikes…

poetry, Uncategorized

Epiphanies: A new blog entry series

brick All of us have them: Those ingenious revelations that visit us in a state of reverie, near-sleep, or near-awake. The problem comes for many of us when we decide to leverage our big revolutionary ideas in an approachable way for others. Epiphanies, elusive and sometimes seemingly divine, can be a source of pleasure or torture, depending on how we use them.

For the next several blog posts, I plan to highlight different types of epiphanies, and then present one way of leveraging them into applicable plans or products, especially from a writing standpoint. To begin, let’s look at one type of epiphany that regularly strikes the poetic mind: the analogy epiphany.

In this revelation, the poet or thinker is suddenly and shockingly aware of a similarity or relationship between two previously alien things. Usually, the two items in question are comprised of one concrete, tangible thing and one abstraction. For instance, when Robert Burns realized his love was a red, red rose, his writing documented that epiphany. Many may say that this thought lacked originality, as poets had been symbolizing love with roses for centuries. Often though, our own epiphanies are far from original as well. When we begin speaking in similes and metaphors about two previously disparate ideas, you can bet that an analogy epiphany is hard at work forming itself. Our “aha” moments need not escape us, however.

When the analogy epiphany strikes me, my first choice is to dissect the relationship between the two things using a plain, ordinary T-chart. You know the kind: Two columns created by one vertical line intersecting a shorter horizontal line toward the top. One topic goes on the left at the top, one topic goes on the right. From there, I’m able to list qualities, characteristics, and descriptors of the two things and see their similarities and differences with parallel acuity. Sure, this may seem elementary — a Venn Diagram or another instrument may work just as well for visual organization. But by having the two ideas side by side, I’m able to begin a larger process. About five or ten minutes into listing qualities, first lines begin to form inside my mind. I write these down. Maybe I’ll use them, maybe not. More often than not, refined versions of these first lines work their way into my poetry somehow.The two items often create a central metaphor around which the larger piece is built.

By examining relationships between tangentially connected things, the wheels and cogs of the mind begin to naturally create points of commonality that were previously unexplored. These connections are the creators of poetry, as well as products and plans in the business world. The more receptive we become to our analogy epiphanies, the better our world will be. Creators and connectors, keep your minds wide open. More epiphanies to follow.


poetry, Uncategorized

Insomnia: The writer’s best frenemy

Plenty has been written about writers and their lack of sleep. But since I’m awake anyway, I thought I might as well tackle the issue also.

Yes, being awake at 3 a.m. has its advantages — the house is quiet, and if I really need to get some writing or editing done, there is no quieter time. Everyone else is “a-snooze in their beds,” as Dr. Seuss would say, and meanwhile, my grey matter is churning and firing more thoughts than its daytime counterpart could ever conceive.

However, the price will come in the sunlit hours — my teaching will be less enthusiastic, or too much coffee will make me jittery/cranky/irascible/jumpy. I’ve heard all the remedies, from herbal supplements (melatonin once broke me out in a rash more severe than chicken pox) to yoga relaxation techniques. And there’s nothing more irritating than a hangover induced by over-the-counter sleep aids, by the way. The plain truth is, my mind wants to be up, and so my body follows.

Insomnia is a bit of a blessing curse — some of my best stuff gets written in the wee hours, and I guess there is an established literary tradition to be followed here. Poets across centuries have endured the same nightly conflict: get up and scrawl out what could be great revelation, or stay in bed, tossing and turning in the torture of some undocumented epiphany. Truthfully, it isn’t always some kind of great inspiration that rouses me. Some nights, it’s just “awakeness.” No pressing thoughts about pieces, deadlines or work-related matters; just the old thinker cycling thousands of disconnected, unrelated images through my mental cinema.

If I were to be perfectly forthright with myself, I suppose I allow insomnia to recur because it has its creative payoff. While other writers are snugly tucked in dreamland, here I am, cranking out poetry and prose. Sure, there are studies and advisory epistles that show how lack of sleep affects performance, thought clarity, and other aspects of life, but in the end, when I have a newly completed piece or an expertly edited work of my craft, I’m willing to endure a few yawns throughout the day. Time to go brew up a pot of the good stuff — have a good morning, friends.

poetry, Uncategorized

The Obligatory “Writing Resolutions” Blog Post

notebooknpenIt’s a bit of cliche to write a post entirely about “what I resolve to do in 2013.” However, that’s not stopping me from doing it. Disappointing, I know. But all the cool kids are doing it. So, here you have it: John Davis Jr.’s list of writing resolutions for the new year:

1. I have a book manuscript that has been sitting on my hard drive now for the better part of a year. I’ve submitted it around to various publishers and contests, revised it and polished it countless times, but still haven’t landed any “bites” yet. I resolve to get this book published in 2013.

2. In connection with resolution #1, I resolve NOT to self-publish said manuscript. Been there, done that, friends. It wasn’t a positive experience the first time around, so why would I intentionally subject myself to that negative encounter a second time?

3. One magazine publication per month, or at least 12 publication credits total in (fairly) reputable outlets. Sure, some months are more publication-heavy than others, and expecting to publish in at least one journal like clockwork every month would be unrealistic. However, seeking to publish at least 12 times over the course of an entire year is doable. Last year, I garnered about 10 publication credits total in magazines and online zines that are pretty good, so this year, I plan to up the ante a bit. If I fall short of the goal, it won’t be for lack of trying.

4. Enter at least six writing contests. My general rule is this: for every five magazine submissions I send out, I try to enter one contest. Some of these are respected and renowned competitions, others are fledgling. But no matter the prestige or the status, entering contests yields its own rewards: subscriptions to magazines, feedback from judges, and name placement are just a few of the perks that come with contest participation.

5. Build the network. By being in the MFA program, I have a number of great associates who provide candid, well-thought-out responses to my work. With that being said, I like hearing from people from all walks of life within the literary field. Editors, publishers, and professors are just a few of the folks whose opinions and thoughts I would like to encounter more. So, with that in mind, I plan to build out my writing network to include more people whose critical eyes are sharpest.

I think five resolutions should about do it — some believe in more, others believe in fewer. For my purposes at this juncture, however, these five goals should give me plenty of work for 2013. Here’s hoping that all my readers have a wonderful new year, as well. May it be filled with the pleasures and wonders that our world has to offer: Faith, Family, Friends, and incredible experiences. Happy New Year!