Not to be confused with epitaph, epigram, or epithet, in literature, an epigraph is a phrase, quotation, or poem that is set at the beginning of a document or component. I used them at the beginning of each chapter in my book, but stumbled upon the notion by accident.
I was trying to understand the heart of a draft piece I wrote and my friend and fellow Carlow MFA student, Pat Brett, blurted out a quotation from a children’s book, “She was looking for a clean, dry nesting-place,” from Jemima Puddle Duck, Beatrix Potter. It rang true for me, so I slapped the epigraph at the beginning of the chapter and redrafted, redrafted, redrafted. The epigraph served as a guidepost, and helped me shape the chapter into the form it needed to be.
I used epigraphs in other chapters as well. Sometimes I knew exactly what was going on and was able to find a quotation or song title that reflected or somehow enhanced (I think) the material in the chapter. Other times, I struggled to unearth the essence of what I was exploring, and found an epigraph that enlightened me, that taught me something about my own work and often, my own life. Sometimes I searched for them; other times they popped into my view as I was reading, or even in conversation. In one chapter, I quoted my neighbor, whose words of wisdom came at just the right time and helped us.
So, I was thrilled to have my book reviewed in Story Circle Book Reviews, but really tickled that one of the epigraphs helped that reader find her way to the heart of my book. And to think it was Jemima Puddle Duck.
Here is where you can see the full review: http://www.storycirclebookreviews.org/reviews/clearskies.shtml.
It was fun for me to think about the epigraphs, and to revisit what a useful tool they were for me. Lest you think this piece is a thinly disguised “humblebrag,” (see Lindsay Edmunds’ latest blog post), this great review was followed by a pretty crappy review on Amazon. Humble wins.