Where Shall I Begin?

GreenbaumInspiration and instruction in poetry’s first lines.

by Jessica Greenbaum

Shit are we lost?” begins Debora Lidov’s poem “The Drama of the Gifted Hansel,” which appeared in the Threepenny Review in 2002. I found it again, years after remembering the first line as simply the forehead-slapping “Shit.” And though the wonderful poem enticingly continues—“Should I tell her we’re lost? / If we had some pot . . .”—it is the very first moment of the poem, wired directly into the sparking realization that bread crumbs tank as trail markers, which remained more than a decade as a directive. If the phrase “Once upon a time” marks the front door on which the reader politely knocks, “Shit are we lost?” boosts her through a loft window from which she sees the burning rooms.

Read the complete essay

Download and listen to the discussion between Curtis Fox and Jessica Greenbaum: How Should I Begin? Looking at memorable first lines of poems

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