Nine Epigrams on Writers and Writing

Adapted from the Latin & Greek by Brooke Clark

 Artist credit: O. Von Corven courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Artist credit: O. Von Corven courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Rightful Ownership

Bruno steals other people’s poems and presents them as his own.
    I guess he figures what you steal, you own.

(After Martial)


Missing the Point

Whenever you sit down to write, you aim not to offend;
    you think that it is art’s role to defend
the voiceless, and create what you call a “discursive space”
    where absolutely everyone feels safe,
and judged against your goal not to offend, your work succeeds.
    No one’s offended by what no one reads.

(After Martial)


Advice to an Aspiring Poet

You want to be called a poet, Marcus, and yet you write nothing.
    You’re welcome to the title—just don’t start writing.

(After Martial)


Mentem mortalia tangunt

I’d resolved to write a masterpiece that would win me instant fame
    and make the ages echo with my name,
but, passing a graveyard, I recalled that all lives share one end.
    I might as well go drinking with my friends.

(After Anonymous)


Unexpected Wisdom

You write bad verse all day, but won’t let anyone look at it.
    You’re an idiot—and not an idiot.

(After Martial)



A stranger eyed me up and then approached
as I was sitting in a small café
and said, “Aren’t you—aren’t you the guy who writes
those funny little poems?” I didn’t say
a word, just gave a nod and tried to act
as if this happened to me every day,
but then he followed with, “Man, you look shabby.”
I stiffened slightly; “Funny poems don’t pay.”
“Guess not,” he said, and with a little grin
that turned into a smirk, he walked away.
My soul is dressed in glory, like Cyrano’s,
but still, it might be time for some new clothes.

(After Martial)


A Lucky Break at Open Mic Night

Marcus, you say a cough has left your broken voice no use.
    Don’t read your poems then—we accept your excuse.

(After Martial)


An Atheist Turns to Prayer

Brevity comes easily, I’ve found, to anyone
    who wins a poetry prize; they say, “I won,”
and nothing more. But ask the losers: they will have discovered
    the winner’s best friend—or maybe her lover—
was on the judging panel, or claim they’re being punished for
    a negative review from years before—
but then, posterity ignores what’s popular today,
    and who cares about prizes anyway?
I understand that, when you lose, complaining brings relief,
    but, god of prizes, let my words be brief.

(After Callimachus)


Math for Poets

“I read your poems,” says Bruno. “I thought half of them were bad.”
    If the other half were good, that’s not half-bad.

 (After Martial)


BROOKE CLARK is a contributing editor for Partisan and edits an epigrams website and writes about references to Canada in books by non-Canadians. His poetry has appeared in journals in Canada and the U.S., including Arion, Literary Imagination, The Rotary Dial, Able Muse, and Light. Read more of his Partisan work here.

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