Term: Epigraph

An epigraph is a brief bit of text, usually borrowed from another writer, found before a poem, but after the title. (You may also find one at the start of a book, before the poems, but after the title page.) It gives a reader, or listener, something else to hold in mind as the poem is read. Neither part of the poem, nor wholly separate from it, an epigraph can be used for various purposes; it can be necessary information to understand a poem, for example, or it can be something with which the poem disagrees.

It is predominantly found in written form, but in a reading, the poet may expand upon the epigraph, as Adrian Mitchell does in 'Life is a Walk Across A Field'; the proverb with which the title disagrees is an epigraph in the published poem, but here Mitchell explains that instead.

How to use this term

Ian McMillan's 'The Texas Swing Boys Dadaist Manifesto' has an invented quotation as its epigraph, which - like the title - aims to create a mood of collision between country music and surrealist collage that the poem can work in.

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Daljit Nagra

From time to time a poet is in residence at the Poetry Archive, talking about poetry with anyone who wants to join in the conversation.

Comic Verse

I'm troubled, as you can tell by my introduction, about comic verse. Comic verse gets bad press because rigid notions of comedy foreground throwaway poems. Surely the best comedy is when the poem surprises us into laughter rather than setting up t... >