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A poem is posted each and every day, for the first 100 days, President Barack Obama is in office.On this blog you can read poems by: Mark Bibbins, Cate Marvin, Major Jackson, Matthew Zapruder, and so many more very talented and inspiring writers.

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joan-didionThe first line of a book always stays with me.   I like to devour books, somehow imagining that I can climb into the book, become a part of the story as the ink on the page seeps into my skin.  And no matter how fantastic the book was, or how terrible, I am always depressed when it comes to an end.  Often I will go back and re-read the first line of the story when I am finished.  As a kind of salve to the wound that finishing a story can leave.  And so the first line of a book becomes magical, the beginning of a journey and with each opening line I never know where the story is going to take me.

Below are some of my favorite first lines.  Hopefully they will inspire you to pick up the book if you haven’t already read it, or remind you of the journey you took when you did read it.  What are some of your favorite first lines?  Which ones inspired you?  Made you want to go back and read the book again or recommend it to a friend?

–What makes Iago evil? some people ask.  I never ask.  (Play it as it Lays, Joan Didion)

–In the end she went out to the yard, almost enveloped in flames, leaned against the tamarind tree that no longer flowered, and began to cry in such a way that the tears seemed never to have begun, but to have been there always, flooding her eyes, producing that creaking noise, like the noise of the house at the moment when the flames made the strongest pots totter and the flashing frame came down in an enormous crackling that pierced the night like a volley of fireworks.  (Old Rosa, Reynaldo Arenas)

–Hazel Motes sat at a forward angle on the green plush train seat, looking one minute at the window as if he might want to jump out of it, and the next down the aisle at the other end of the car.  (Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor)

–They say it came first from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began; that it was a demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles.  (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz)

–The village of Holcolm stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call “out there.” (In Cold Blood, Truman Capote)

–The first time he saw heaven came exactly six hours and fifty seven minutes after the very moment an entire generation fell in love with him.  (Heavier than Heaven, Charles R. Cross)

–The two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane.  (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, JK Rowling)

–In accordance with the law the death sentence was announced to Cincinnatus C. in a whisper.  (Invitation to a Beheading, Vladimir Nabokov)

–A few months after my twenty-first birthday, a stranger called to give me the news.  (Dreams of my Father, Barack Obama)

–First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey.  (The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien)

-It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.  (The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath)

It was only last Spring that Senator Obama enlightened us about the characteristics of Pennsylvanians, saying, “You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them, and they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration, has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate, and they have not. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns, or religion, or antipathy to people who aren’t like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment, or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

And over this past weekend it would appear we, as a nation, acquired a 51st State in the Union, the state of North Virginia. In defending the idea John McCain would lose the state of Virginia, with polls leaning towards Obama, Nancy Pfotenhauer, a senior adviser to McCain, stated, “as a proud resident of Oakton, Va., I can tell you that the Democrats have just come in from the District of Columbia and moved into northern Virginia, and that’s really what you see there. But the rest of the state, real Virginia, if you will, I think will be very responsive to Senator McCain’s message.”

We live in a world with internet, 24-hour news channels, and live blogging, which accounts for a lot of words being spoken and written, at a rapid pace, and what we seem to lose in the fray is the ability to step back, think before we speak, and choose the words that say what we actually mean. In an effort to get sound bites out quickly, words and intent seem to become opposed, and I would argue the result is that dangerous, divisive sentiments are being put before the American people.

In two weeks we elect one man to be our leader. The executive branch of government is an office in which we allow just one of our citizens to give the entire population a public voice for the world. And as I weigh my decision the word I consider most often is “American,” as in; which man does actually speak for and represent the majority of this nation’s population?

The media is certainly participating in the devolution of language as evidenced above. Perhaps the Republicans were not wrong to criticize the way the media pounced upon Sarah Palin’s nomination for Vice President. Initially, instead of impartial journalistic reporting, the first few weeks following Palin’s nomination were filled with cruel rumor-mongering, going so far as to attack her children, and even question the parentage of Palin’s youngest son.

As I write, as I claim to want to write, to participate in a public discourse, be it journalistically, poetically or fictitiously, what I see around me leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. In an essay on moral vision, Norman Mailer wrote:

“Democracy is the throbbing embodiment of the dialectic— thesis, antithesis, and synthesis ready to become the new thesis.

You cannot have a great democracy without great writers. If great novels disappear, as they are in danger of doing, and our storytelling is co-opted by television and journalism, then I think we will be that much farther away from a free society. Novels that reinvigorate our view of the subtlety of moral judgments are essential to a democracy. Americans were affected for decades by The Grapes of Wrath. Some good Southerners even developed a sense of the tragic by reading Faulkner…

I’m right and I’m wrong so often that I have no interest in convincing others to think the way I do. I’m interested, rather, that we all get better at thinking. If a book is good enough, you cannot predict how your readers are going to react. You shouldn’t be able to. If it is good, it is not manipulative, and everyone, therefore, can voyage off in a different direction.”

So I return to the word that I believe is the heart of the matter: American. Each citizen has their own personal interpretation of what that word means, and are also entitled to their interpretation. The diversity of thought and belief in this country are a direct result of the freedoms we enjoy, and are privileged to employ as citizens of this nation. The two men running for President have already been given great opportunity to have their voices heard around the globe. The writers who create the space for that voice, enjoy an opportunity that is a mere fantasy to other nation’s populations. And these privileges are largely taken advantage of, as they come with a great responsibility no one seems to uphold anymore. Take a minute, take a breath, and say what you mean, because lately no one seems to mean what they say.