After I had completed at least three drafts of my first novel, The Olympian, A Tale of Ancient Hellas, my friend Steven Pressfield suggested, “You might want to get a copy of Noah Lukeman’s book The First Five Pages. I think you will find it helpful.” That is a typical understatement from a great author.
I had the book in my hands a week later, and – slow reader that I am – had finished reading its 200 pages in just a few days. I was devastated, tried and found guilty of every trap Mr. Lukeman advises writers to be cautious. I went back to ground zero and re-wrote The Olympian another three times. As The Olympian remains my best seller, I must have done something right, and I will forever thank Mr. Pressfield for his sage advice.
Over the years, people have come to me to discuss writing projects. One of the first things I tell them is to secure a copy of The First Five Pages. The pages in my copy have gone brown, the yellow highlights have faded, but the black ‘stars’ and underlines I’ve made over the years will remain forever.
While the book overflows with indispensable information, the exercise that has been most valuable to me is presented in Chapter 3, “Sound.” Mr. Lukeman writes,
“Take some time to read poetry. Spend weeks reading as many different poets as you can. By devoting all this attention to the individual word, phrase and stanza, you will learn a greater attention for language, and this attention will eventually show in your own work.”
I have read poetry daily since I read that paragraph in 2003.
Last week, I discovered a new poet, Amairgen, one of the mythological Milesian kings who conquered Ireland. As he approached the island and stepped ashore, Amairgen sang an invocation calling upon the spirit of Ireland that has come to be known as “The Song of Amairgen.” Irish tradition claims that Amairgen’s ode is the first poem ever composed in Ireland. I find great beauty and rhythm in “The Song of Amairgen,” and I think you will see, using this poem as an example, how poetry can inspire writers and improve their prose.
Listen to “The Song of Amairgen” while you read
I am the wind which breathes upon the sea,
I am the wave of the ocean,
I am the murmur of the billows,
I am the ox of the seven combats,
I am the vulture upon the rocks,
I am a beam of the sun,
I am the fairest of plants,
I am the wild boar in valour,
I am the salmon in the water,
I am a lake in the plain,
I am a world of knowledge,
I am the point of the lance of battle,
I am the God who created the fire in the head