Well, there were no right answers, but I'll at least tell you the names of the poems and who wrote them.
First, however, thanks to all of you who had a shot at my First Two Lines game.
I suppose whether you feel inclined to read on from an anonymous opening two-lines depends largely on personal taste. There were lines that some people loved and others found a complete turn-off.
I do think that all these line-pairs set the scene admirably well for what happens afterwards. But if you didn’t like a given line-pair, it's at least possible you might change your opinion when you know who the author is. That’s interesting in itself. I reckon you’ll ‘hear’ some of these lines in a different way when you know who wrote them. It’s like what Andy J. says about number 8 sounding as if it had been written by an “old English duffer,” but if you heard it read by a young New Yorker in the late 1950s, you’d have completely different expectations of what was to follow.
Reading the words without the author ‘being present’, so to speak, is quite difficult. Number 8 turned some of you off, but of course it turns into a fine poem. And you could bet on the authors of numbers 1, 4 and 6 to deliver from their unconventional opening lines, just because they are brilliant but far from conventional writers. A couple of lines on the brink of pretentiousness can be made to work (sometimes) in the right hands.
Well done to those of who guessed on Geoffrey Hill for number 2 (and to Heather who picked it as a favourite, without knowing who the author was, as she is a big GH fan). I'm impressed! It shows how distinctive Hill’s writing is, and, of course, how well-read readers of this blog are.
Several of you picked out number 3. It guess it shows why this author is so popular, and the same can be said of number 9, which also got a few thumbs up. Of course, they also got one thumbs down and one shrug, and I expected more than one of each. The ubiquity of such poetry is the cause of much division in contemporary UK poetry circles.
Number 7 also got a few votes. It’s a weird poem, quite surreal, but quite compelling and sensually rhythmic as it goes on – at least, I think so. Hedgie worried that it might turn unto “a not-terribly inventive dream poem.” I see the cause of worry, but fortunately the writer’s power of imagination worked overtime on this one.
Number 5 is typical of its author – jaded, cynical and funny, and always writing the same poem rather too often! – and number 10 is probably better known as a novelist for a reason…
I’ve listed the lines again, with the authors, the names of the poems, and the books where I found them.
1. Today, this insect, and the world I breathe,
Now that my symbols have outelbowed space,
- Dylan Thomas: Today, this insect (Collected Poems 1934-52)
2. Covenants, yes; outcries, yes; systemic
disorders like the names of rock-plants, yes;
- Geoffrey Hill: Poem No. 50 (Orchards of Syon)
3. I found the words at the back of a drawer
wrapped in black cloth, like three rings
- Carol Ann Duffy: Finding the Words (Rapture)
4. Unsnack your snood, madanna, for the stars
Are shining on all brows of Neversink.
- Wallace Stevens: Late Hymn from the Myrrh-Mountain (Selected Poems)
5. there’s nothing like being young
- Charles Bukowski: a place in Philly (Bone Palace Ballet)
6. What innocence? Whose guilt? What eyes? Whose breast?
Crumpled orphan, nembutal bed,
- Edwin Morgan: The Death of Marilyn Monroe (Collected Poems)
7. I sat in the cold limbs of a tree.
I wore no clothes and the wind was blowing.
- Mark Strand: The Man in the Tree (Selected Poems)
8. Not you, lean quarterlies and swarthy periodicals
with your studious incursions toward the pomposity of ants,
- Frank O’Hara: To the Film Industry (The New York Poets)
9. It’s told like this:
the five of them, up with the lark
- Simon Armitage: Tale (Book of Matches)
10. We alone can devalue gold
by not caring
- Alice Walker: We Alone (Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful)