“I have fallen in love with American names, / The sharp names that never get fat, / The snakeskin-titles of mining-claims, / The plumed war-bonnet of Medicine Hat, / Tucson and Deadwood and Lost Mule Flat.”


A poem comes to a poet, and he sends it orphaned out into the world, to take its chances. It never knows who or what it might inspire or how it might become part of the world it has stepped into. Stephen Vincent Benet sent his poem, “American Names,” out into the world in 1927. Years later the first line inspired a hit song for a new movie. The last line became the title of a best-selling book, then of a song and a movie. All this and more, unexpectedly, from a couple of lines from an orphaned poem.