Sunday, April 24, 2011


According to, the definition of epigraph is this: inscription, especially on a building, statue, or the like. apposite quotation at the beginning of a book, chapter, etc.

Being a word-loving gal who has long collected quotes from books, speeches and daily life, I happen to be a fan of epigraphs. Here's two of my favorites:

"There's something sweet about digression." - Frank McCourt (I used it in a poem entitled "Two Women Walking Along the Shore of Lake Michigan")

"All secrets are witnessed." - Barbara Kingsolver (It appeared in a poem I wrote entitled "First Day of Winter")

The Best American Poetry blog has chronicled the use of epigraphs is a number of famous poems here.

But not everyone is a fan of epigraphs. I have sat in more than one poetry workshop during which the advice was "cut that epigraph."

Cutting is sometimes necessary when the poem meanders so far from the original kernel that it's no longer recognizable. Or when it becomes so distracting that it's like a puzzle that must be figured out.

But some poems feel deeper and more meaningful because of the epigraph. Besides, it's just plain fascinating to get an extra peek inside the author's process. I mean, how many times have I read a poem and wished to know its origin? An epigraph provides that.

Here's three recent additions to my little notebook that get my poetic juices flowing:

"Childhood is a jungle, not a garden." - Richard Peck

"There is a lot of nothingness involved in the process." - David Diaz

"Human being are unpredicatable. That's the glory of the thing." - Carmen Agra Deedy

What about you? Are you a fan or not a fan of epigraphs?

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