Category Archives: epigram

Epigram: ‘Bit with Bite’

I think I’ve blinked
At what you write:
Edgy, succinct–
A bit with bite.

This is in the spirit of a homage to The Asses of Parnassus, in which the poem found a home. Editor Brooke Clark has created a tumblr account that for the past few years has been posting “Short, witty, formal poems” on an occasional (i.e. erratic) basis, much in the spirit of Latin and Greek epigrams (and often translations of them, or modern retellings).

This poem itself is not particularly noteworthy – but I enjoyed rhyming ‘blinked’ with ‘succinct’, as well as the ‘think/blink’ and ‘bit/bite’ pairings. Wordplay is at the heart of poetry, from Anglo-Saxon alliteration to modern rap, from nursery rhymes to Shakespearean sonnets. Wordplay is memorable, and sharpens the pain of an epigrammatic jab. Use it, if you want your barbs to be effective.

Epigram: ‘The Gods Compete’

The gods compete; some harvest verse, some tears,
Some deaths in battle, some vague hopes and fears.

This epigram is nondenominational–in the sense that I don’t have any preference for how people view, or are attracted to, some particular god.

More challenging is the punctuation. Good punctuation definitely helps guide the reader through the meanings of the passage, but what is ‘good’ varies by culture. Many Americans loathe the semicolon beloved by writers of convoluted passages. Many people argue for or against comma placements. In this piece, a 17-word sentence, the first line seems clearer than the second. “Some deaths in battle” might in this case be better written as “Some, deaths in battle” but that would suggest following it with “some, vague hopes and fears.” Then it might be preferable to separate those two parts of the line with a semicolon… but then perhaps the previous line should end in a semicolon too… but then what about the semicolon after “The gods compete”? Replace it with a colon.

I can’t help thinking of the remark often attributed to Oscar Wilde, or, as David Galef pointed out in the New York Times, Gustave Flaubert: “I spent the morning putting in a comma. In the afternoon I removed it.”

The poem was originally published in The Asses of Parnassus–thanks, Brooke Clark!

Photo: “Pergamon Museum _DSC17798” by youngrobv is marked with CC BY-NC 2.0.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Michael R. Burch, ‘Bible Libel’

If God
is good,
half the Bible
is libel.

Michael R. Burch writes: “This may be the first poem I wrote. I read the Bible from cover to cover at age 11, and it was a traumatic experience. But I can’t remember if I wrote the epigram then, or came up with it later. In any case, it was probably written between age 11 and 13, or thereabouts. It would be kinda cool to be remembered by a poem I wrote at such an early age. Plus, it’s short, so readers would probably finish it!

I have been using Google results to determine which of my poems are the most popular on the Internet. Some of my poems have gone viral, appearing on hundreds or thousands of web pages. That’s a lot of cutting and pasting, and I like to think people must like a poem in order to take the time to replicate it. This epigram, which I wrote around age 11 to 13, at one time returned over 405,000 results for the last two lines, and over 51,000 results for the entire poem. The last time I checked, it still returned over 292,000 results. I was especially pleased to see one of the first poems I wrote, and possibly the first, go viral. If I wrote anything earlier, I don’t remember it.

Michael R. Burch has over 6,000 publications, including poems that have gone viral. His poems have been translated into fourteen languages, incorporated into three plays and two operas, and set to music by seventeen composers. He also edits TheHyperTexts.

Photo: “Bible, Reading Glasses, Notes and Pen” by paul.orear is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0