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This evening David Lehman will be reading from Next Line, Please: Prompts to Inspire Poets and Writers at: Book Culture 82nd Street and Columbus Avenue New York City 7pm Join us for a night of literary magic, beautiful books, and a reading of the prompts that started it all. For next week, start your poem with the first clause of Lord Byron's Don Juan: "I want a hero" and see what comes next! Extra points to those who write in Byron's legendary form: an ottava rima stanza—eight lines long, rhyming a-b-a-b-a-b-c-c. You could also write a brief poem about Lord Byron beginning with his line, “I want a hero.” Twelve lines or less, and as a model consider W. H. Auden’s poem that begins, “A shilling life will give you all the facts.” Have fun with it! The next few days of rain might be the perfect time to pass in the library rereading Byron or reading up on his extraordinary life. As always, visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post and to enter your candidate! Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at The Best American Poetry
Last week on Next Line, Please, David Lehman gave us an enticing first line based on a two-clause summary of Tolstoy's classic, War and Peace. NLP contributors went many ways with the prompt, some playing off of the shortened plot summaries, and others, the fruit of false parallelism. Angela Ball’s “Synapses,” (the word for “a junction between two nerve cells, consisting of a minute gap across which impulses pass by diffusion of a neurotransmitter,” as Mr. Lehman reminds us) is rife with clever stuff. The breaking news about Karl Marx comes at no better time, as his birthday last week went uncelebrated but not unnoticed: Pierre loves Natasha and Napoleon invades Russia. Polar ice cap diminishes and socialite seeks follicular transplant. Novice renounces world and exerciser learns Zumba. Karl Marx writes love poetry and lava engulfs subdivision. Prankster covers toilet bowl with plastic wrap and Eta Aquariids meteor shower arrives. Shady company sells fake ants and Battle of Chaeronea is first recorded use of “penetration of the center.” Feigned retreat devolves to real one in Battle of Maling and rhinoceros named to the City Council in São Paulo, Brazil. Office stapler jams and Russian noun “Razbliuto” describes “the feeling a man has for someone he once loved.” Hannibal employs double envelope in Cannae and Japanese noun “Yugen” refers to “a feeling about the universe too deep and mysterious for words.” In “The Power of Words,” Patricia Smith joins those of us who regret that some people just don't "get" the beauty of great books. Pierre loves Natasha and Napoleon invades Russia. How much simpler it would have been to explain to an unwilling student— one complaining of unfamiliar names impossible to associate with something familiar or bemoaning detailed descriptions of scenes surrounding impending battles— that Tolstoy had written an epic love story albeit a hefty one. And nothing can beat this final stanza of Millicent Caliban’s “War Heroes”: Lovers’ problems don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, yet when the hurlyburly’s done, in our stories, it is the lovers we remember and not who won. Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post, and keep your eyes peeled for a new prompt! Continue reading
Posted May 8, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
This week's Next Line, Please takes you for a spin around the world. The places are real and the experiences imagined, and yet there's something about this prompt that makes me feel like a tired, excited traveller on a midnight train heading to... “Montevideo” by Angela Ball Montevideo mourns in spangles tonight. In the middle of somewhere, wives fly aprons from housetops, sit down equally with husbands wives sons daughters, beautifully and remorselessly thinking in the moist old city. Montevideo in the middle of somewhere renounces Brutalism in buildings and roughness of action, endorses la Dama de la Noche and the shyest parrots. Lost to stables, roans and chestnuts circle extravagance. In the middle of somewhere, Montevideo mourns in spangles tonight. ...and the wind is whipping and the tourists are buzzing, and as we pull into the following stop on the midnight express train: Ricky Ray’s “Hawaii”: The pool blue of Hawaii haunts me like the eye of a dog whose other eye was brown like the skin of my father all day swinging a machete in the sun, I want the ungodly way the women would watch him work through his troubles to feed me, fat boy who ate too much because a dog was his mother and both of them ate the sun. And so many more! Including un-Finn-ished poems and many more stories from places visited in the imagination. For next week … how about a poem of twelve to 14 lines, beginning with a one-sentence summary of War and Peace: “Pierre loves Natasha and Napoleon invades Russia.” As David Lehman smartly remarks, "The two clauses are perfectly balanced, each one a subject, verb, and object, and the incongruity between the two clauses is very funny." Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post from around the world, and enter your candidate for next week! Continue reading
Posted May 1, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
This week's post was a call for submissions with the following prompt: Pack your bags and set up your travel itinerary, because we are writing travel poems! But not in the way you'd have guessed. This week, pick a place that you have never been to and write a poem envisioning your time there. What are your favorite parts of it? What are some things you might do and see? Will you meet anyone there? Is it as beautiful as you expected? Take a look at some similarly prompted works by Elizabeth Bishop (“In Prison”), James Merrill (“Peru: The Landscape Game”), and John Ashbery (“The Instruction Manual”). These poems and others show that you don't need to go someplace to say something new or unique about it. Write about the place and what you like most about it in two stanzas of five to seven lines each. The last line of both stanzas should be identical, or nearly so. Let the name of the place serve as your title, e.g. “Belgrade” or “Cruising the Caribbean.” Or just play Bobby Darin’s recording of “Sunday in New York” and write whatever comes to mind. Visit the American Scholar's page to enter your candidate! Continue reading
Posted Apr 24, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
On Monday evening, April 23rd, David Lehman and Linda Gregerson will be reading poems at KGB Bar! KGB Bar 85 East 4th Street New York, New York 7:30 pm, but get there early to make sure you get a seat! Linda Gregerson, who teaches at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, is a poet as well as a scholar of Elizabethan and seventeenth-century poetry. She has won many awards. Her latest book of poems is "Prodigal: New and Selected Poems, 1976-2014" (Houghton Mifflin). David Lehman, who teaches at The New School in New York City, is a poet, editor, and literary critic, just to name a few of his accomplishments. His latest book of poetry is Poems in the Manner of (Simon and Schuster) and his latest book on writing is Next Line, Please: Prompts to Inspire Poets and Writers (Cornell University Press). Continue reading
Posted Apr 21, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
The New School After Hours on April 20th, 2018 Come one, come all, to the hippest literary scene in the East Village! Hosted by Virginia Valenzuela and Co-host Sam Roos Every third Friday of the month, New Schoolers new and old come to the Red Room to strut their stuff. Poets, novelists, essayists, musicians, and YA galore! The Red Room at KGB Bar (3rd floor) 85 E 4th Street, New York, New York Doors open at 6:30pm Event to begin around 8pm We can't wait to see you there! Continue reading
Posted Apr 18, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Last week on Next Line, Please, David Lehman proposed a list poem that included three out of the following four words: “listless,” “invent,” “Tory,” and “catalogue.” The contributors to the column went above and beyond, creating clever spins on the list words, as well as the lists. Millicent Caliban’s “After My Wife Left Me” imagines possible recipes for a newly widowed individual who shall heal through good food: I find myself shopping listless. I am a creature of impulse, inventing imaginary meals for gustaTory delight: plump anchovies in aspic, fresh chanterelles with shallots and cream, spicy sautéed quinoa with kale, orzo fennel orange salad, pureed chestnuts with chocolate. My catalogue of recipes mixes memory with desire. How does a poet learn to cook? In Elizabeth Solsburg’s poem we receive the great promise of a “catalogue of peace”: Is music invented that actually soothes the savage breast? Perhaps something like Liszt, less like the daily cacophony from the composer of this mess we are trying to mute. Let’s choose notes from a catalogue of peace, like we chose seeds to plant in the garden where we hope to sit in summer— smelling these embryonic flowers, listening to the night symphony of crickets Ravindra Rao’s “We are Are Always Preparing for the End” is both charming and musical: Listless, I invent a list. Seven dying doves for Christmas, the good Klaus will deliver. Every dove is a dying dove. Every love, too, though we don’t mention that. Some say love is nothing more than a catalogue of fading memories, that lovers are always stuck in September. I am not claiming to agree, but please don’t wake me up when the soundtrack ends. I am busy dreaming a list of possible futures. Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post! Continue reading
Posted Apr 17, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
This week's poems were prompted by a list of given lines which were offered up by our master of ceremonies, David Lehman: — A good liar needs a first-rate memory. — This prophecy Merlin shall make; for I live before his time. — Neither fugues nor feathers enchant the fool. — No one will read what I write here; therefore, — The desire to make love in a pagoda Elizabeth Solsburg combines two of the prompt lines in these beautiful, musical, and symmetrical stanzas: This prophecy Merlin shall make, for I live beyond his time— that he will find a kestrel feather floating on the lake and mistake it for the power of flight, as I will believe his passion is true love and not merely its illusion. He will be seduced by dreams of air slipping over wings, as I will be enthralled by promises and song. But at the last, we shall both sink into the dark pool, unmagicked and unloved, because feathers and fugues can enchant the fool. Charise Hoge’s “Rampant Writing” fragments Kafka’s line in a funny and refreshing way: no one will read … for poets are cropping up like a luxury of weeds: sagebrush, mugwort, nettle; not the sort of plant anyone chooses for plots aiming to be garden beds, but the kind that catches by surprise, causes sneezing that creates a seismic shift along cranial synarthroses, refocusing the eyes, and somewhere someone will say “bless you” Next week's prompt is to write a list poem of 12 lines or less including at least three of the following words "listless," invent," "Tory," and "catalogue." Visit the American Scholar's page to enter your candidate! Continue reading
Posted Apr 11, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
It is a real pleasure to see the buzz form around the publication of Next Line, Please: Prompts to Inspire Poets and Writers. So much talent and so many good poems are to be found there, along with prompts as far as the eye can read! Today we look at a poem written by one of the contributors, a sort of ode to the series as a whole. From Paul Michelsen, who won NLP’s MVP award two years ago, comes this cento, made up of lines from other contributors, in our honor. Its title, “Next Line.” Midnight champagne, And we are drinking Gallo Burgundy The sickle begins to dream, Drunk on the sacrament— Roll the words to start a drumbeat in your brain. We scrabble for an icy antidote, A busy spray of flaw and folly That tastes like candy, Strewn across a barren no-man’s-land, Marriage on the rocks Rehearsing its surrender As things sour beyond hope. You make promises. Now it’s too late. Flamingo-pink tinctures mixed from catastrophe— Made to look like something we can stand in. What coda might make the whole emerge? For this week’s prompt, we look to hard-to-solve riddles, metaphysical jests, and memorable sentences lifted out of context. Some possible opening lines include: — A good liar needs a first-rate memory. — This prophecy Merlin shall make; for I live before his time. — Neither fugues nor feathers enchant the fool. — “No one will read what I write here; therefore,” — The desire to make love in a pagoda See what at you can do with one or more of these lines in a poem 12 lines long (or shorter). Visit the American Scholar's page to enter your candidate! Continue reading
Posted Apr 3, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Last week, the illustrious leader of the poetry free-for-all tasked the writers of Next Line, Please with a prompt inspired by the challenging game of chess. He proposed that they write poems inspired by the name of a chess opening, such as “Sicilian Defense,” “Queen’s Gambit Declined,” “Hedgehog System,” “Grand Prix Attack,” “Napoleon Opening,” “Vienna Game,” or something of the like. The entries seemed to separate into two categories: the hedgehogs and the foxes. Among the hedgehogs is Mack Eulet’s “J’Adoube” which means means “I adjust,” with a specific chess application: it is what is said by a player who wants to adjust the placing of a chessman without making a move with it. Here in the hedgehog system, it’s midnight now in every time zone. Our strategy: more us, less space—a convex, touchy-feely aggression like the big bang. Alternating currents with no switch, the board’s white-black voltage zaps our zugzwang with rigor mortis. Once a pawn a time—it never matters. The queen seems free until a hand swoops to pluck her. Among the foxes is Don Baumgart's “Fegatello” which takes its title from the name of a chess defense also known as “the fried-liver attack,” a subset of the “two knights’ defense.” All the priceless moments: talking fianchetto, zugzwang, speculating rules of senet even pleased to chat about parcheesi and all our greatest aspirations; All our treasured things: Queen Cleo’s dried-berry necklace, all this drink, these inimitable livers, Dido’s trusty dildo, the GPS that helped you find the clit; And then it was time to eat your last meal: Fried liver, asparagus, raspberry tea; But you never made the final swing Your c.o.d.: Asphyxiation caused by venom from the bite you gave yourself. Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post, with many more excellent poems and crafty chess moves! And please raise a glass on Saturday, March 31st, at midnight any time zone. Continue reading
Posted Mar 27, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
On this week's installment of Next Line, Please, contributors were tasked with writing poems with lines quoted from participants' submissions in the previous week: “He’d rather be listening to Beethoven”—Patricia Wallace “will one day pack her suitcase”—Cheryl Whitehead “And once, I took a turn at the bedside of a dying man”—Donald LaBranche “and all the Patron Saints of Paranoia”—George Kaplan “an illusion, / like loving /without losing”—Courtney Thrash “I have been to the abyss”—David Lehman The results are quite varied and ever satisfying. Shout to to Millicent Caliban’s “Forgive Me” which gives a taste of all 6 lines: I have been to the abbess. She told me to pray to the patron saint of paranoia because I fear my faith is an illusion, like loving without losing. How can I be sure of my vocation? We sing hymns, but I would rather listen to Beethoven: more passion, less devotion, reluctant to obey, unable to desire renunciation. Will I one day pack my suitcase and leave? Tonight I will take my turn by the bed of a dying man and pray for his soul, for his release from guilt and sin and mine. What comes after? Is it bliss or only the abyss? Another gold star to all the newcomers to “Next Line, Please,” specifically Koahakumele's “Baggage”: Once, at twenty, I took a turn at the bedside of a dying man. Though he slept fitfully, and snorted and wheezed his own melody, I knew he’d rather be listening to Beethoven. On the other hand, I, faced with his reality and with silent time lingering, realized I had now been to the abyss. I prayed to all the Patron Saints of Paranoia, recognizing my own small suitcase would be one day packed for my own last journey. Believing I could avoid the blank midnight corridors and antiseptic smells was only an illusion. Like loving without losing. Next week’s prompt is inspired by the charming lexicon of chess, particularly the names of chess openings, including: “Queen’s Gambit Declined” “Sicilian Defense” “Hedgehog System” “Grand Prix Attack” “Napoleon Opening” “Vienna Game” Choose one and do what you can. Your poem can be or not be about chess. Fourteen lines or less. Visit the American Scholar's page to read all the other poems with borrowed lines and to enter your candidate for next week! Continue reading
Posted Mar 21, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Last week's prompt began with an aphorism from Voltaire: “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.” Followed by Mr. Lehman's modification: “Doubt isn’t any fun, but certainty is madness.” And finally, to use this phrase as either a title or a topic: “the minister of loneliness.” This prompt proved fruitful, for there were numerous entries of high quality. So many that Mr. Lehman was forced to award three first place gold medals, the following being the first (and my personal favorite). Patricia Wallace’s “Toothache” which incorporates all the elements of the prompt: No doubt about it. I have a toothache even if I can’t locate the source of the pain (that iffy tooth the dentist’s been eyeing?). It isn’t any fun, this toothache. It’s making me crazy, thinking about how certain is the possibility of a root canal or worse? Of course, it’s trivial, my toothache, beside the impenetrable mysteries: life, death, etc., where there’s no avoiding the knotty family relations between certainty and doubt. According to the Minister of Loneliness, my brave if cryptic guide in these matters, “doubting itself presupposes certainty.” Some doubts, it follows, are properly ignored. Why waste my time doubting the chessboard, or my two hands or the stars in the wintry night sky? It’s too exhausting. In the remotest cold, the Minister of Loneliness tries to unravel these knots. Some call him mad. Even he thinks his work could be merely “a synopsis of trivialities.” He’d rather be listening to Beethoven, who howled and screamed as he composed, making from the chaos of sound a symphony, not of separate notes but their connections, like stars in a constellation. Another notable entry was Courtney Thrash in “Professor of Doubt” which explores the relationship between faith and doubt: faith and doubt are not mutually exclusive in truth, one cannot exist without the other: doubt without faith is an impossibility, like heartache without loving; faith without doubt would be certainty, were not certainty an illusion, like loving without losing And now for the next prompt! Below are six lines quoted in the column: “He’d rather be listening to Beethoven”—Patricia Wallace “will one day pack her suitcase”—Cheryl Whithead “And once, I took a turn at the bedside of a dying man”—Donald LaBranche “and all the Patron Saints of Paranoia”—George Kaplan “an illusion, / like loving /without losing”—Courtney Thrash “I have been to the abyss”—David Lehman Pick one of these phrases and use it—first line, last line, epigraph, a pivot, etc.—in a poem dedicated to the poet whose line you lifted. A possible subject: the ides of March. Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post and to enter your candidate for next week! Continue reading
Posted Mar 13, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Last week's prompt was to riff off of misheard lines and double meanings, or to write a poem which speaks to the "honor role." On the state of honor in our world, Michael C. Rush's “Arete” argues a good point: Neither predators nor prey have honor. Nor need it to restrain their worst impulses. What are we, that need a code to guide us? A poem with a lot of wordplay and a lot of spunk, Christine Rhein's "Honor Role" hits the scene: Give me an H! Give me an O so close, that rolled-out roll rolling away, and the honor left misplaced, misfired, as in haywired, the role—spot lit, hammed up, grown rolly poly—I mean holy cannoli—no proofreading in my pudding, yet no honor roll of shame, no lame, Spellcheck blame braking badly into song, braking all my fingers, braking me off at the pleas— next line yes, please—give me a break. Next week's prompt is to write a poem with an epigraph, either, “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd" (Voltaire), or some variation thereof, such as “Doubt isn’t any fun, but certainty is madness.” An optional addition is to include one of the following phrases: “professor of doubt,” “connoisseur of chaos,” or “minister of loneliness.” Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full posts, full of clever poems and excellent literary references, and to enter your candidate for next week! Continue reading
Posted Mar 6, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
This week's prompt centers on a mix between the homophone and the Freudian slip: create a poem titled "Honor Role" incorporating less of rhyme and more of mix-ups. Words with double meanings, such as "whole in one" or "roll model," as well as altering a word in a well known phrase by one letter, "track meat," "over hall," or "the golden role," can both prove fruitful. Nearly four years ago, David Lehman and The American Scholar began Next Line, Please with the mission to diversify the poetry education available on the web, and to get more poets, many emerging and unpublished, into the ring. Not only have both of these goals been realized, but they created a virtual community that offers both support and constructive criticism. Everyone who participates or reads benefits, and in that spirit comes forth a new publication on creative writing. The first copies of Next Line, Please: Prompts to Inspire Poets and Writers are out and about, and trust me, you'll want to get your hands on this book as soon as you can. The design is utterly beautiful, and the content is like no book on creative writing that you've read before. Great for individuals looking for prompts and for writing groups looking for guidance. Visit the American Scholar's page to enter your candidate! And to read more on the new book! Continue reading
Posted Feb 27, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Last week's prompt, most broadly, was to translate a poem from a language which the author does not know. Next Line, Please contributors were given Armando Frietas Filho’s “Cartão-postal sem fôlego” (“Breathless Postcard”) to translate into English from the Portuguese. In the spirit of community--which launched the first ever prompt of Next Line, Please, a communally crafted sonnet, which can be found here--David Lehman chose single lines from different author's translations, rendering something altogether new, fresh, and downright good. Here is the "translated" poem: Nature nurtures nothing, [David Lehman] neither one’s name nor one’s trousers. [Emily Winakur] A pair of dice is paradise [Millicent Caliban] that falls like false promises, [Erik Chaney] words ad infinitum [Patricia Smith] or the verbiage of infinity. [Angela Ball] Sadness [Justin Knapp] is born … overarching like parasols. [Charise Hoge] For there the rivers are paradises, [Courtney Thrash] and all the verbs and infinitives [Ralph L. Rosa] pass as rapidly as the water flows in the river. [Elizabeth Solzurg] I am reason’s nudist, [Emily Winakur] like mountain peaks overlooking [Charise Hoge] tits of rock, ah! sacred, scared, and scarred. [Erik Chaney] Where is our cave? [Emily Winakur] And on which page? [Courtney Thrash] And in whose book? [Angela Ball] Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post! Continue reading
Posted Feb 21, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
This Monday, February 12th, David Lehman and Angela Ball will be giving a poetry reading at Le Poisson Rouge of Bleecker Street. Join in for drinks, laughs, and a grand old time! Event starts at 7:30, doors open at 6:30, Le Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleecker Street, & it's free! Visit the Le Poisson Rouge's page for more info, other events, and more! Continue reading
Posted Feb 10, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
This week on Next Line, Please, writers were asked to write a poem in the form of a string of haikus. As usual, many excellent candidates rolled in, and here are but a few! Eric Fetzer’s “Erased de Kooning, 1953” reads like a "spontaneous essay—in this case on a pivotal moment in the history of modern art." I enjoy how lines one and three rhyme and how the rhythmic structure of the haiku helps the poem along. Rauschenberg erased A tough de Kooning drawing Leaving a smudged trace. Was it a lecture, Destruction as creation, A dada gesture? But the gesture left Subtle marks on white paper So we’re not bereft Of media, form As expression of movement: Not out of the norm, Just new medium. But many of these would be Awful tedium. Michael C. Rush’s “Blow, Wind” "seems to advocate discarding poetry while exalting the deep source of all poems." It reminds me a bit of Marianne Moore's "Poetry" which begins, "I, too, dislike it." No more poetry. All rhymes are accidental, lack utility. Only the wind now will I listen to. It won’t insist why or how things happen, or can’t. Or tell me nothing matters, or chide, cut, or grant, grudgingly, a sense, a temporary feeling, worth all this expense. Blow, wind, blow. Give me sensation without meaning— the truth, probably. Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post and to enter your own candidate for this week's prompt! Spoiler Alert: it's Valentine's Day themed. --Virginia Valenzuela Continue reading
Posted Feb 6, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Darren Lyons acrylic, water, sparkling water, and vodka on canvas board; text on cardstock Dice-Roll Variations is a series of painted drawings and poetic captions, inspired by the Abstract Expressionists, New York School poets, and John Cage’s chance operations, created from a ruleset that orders, but does not strictly govern, the resulting works. The viewer can experience them as she or they or he wishes, without influence. Listen to your thoughts as you view them. Ruleset: Over the span of twenty days, once per day, make six marks with cheap paint on a new canvas board, every day, in the style (loosely) of the painters you love. For each mark, roll a die: 1 = white, 2 = black; 3 = green, 4 = yellow, 5 = blue, 6 = red. On each day of painting, write a numbered section, six six-syllable lines of a twenty-day poem that reads like a daybook/journal about each day’s painting. Include dreams, memories, observations, quotes, etc. For each text section, randomly select a number between 1 and 81: find the chapter in the Tao Te Ching that corresponds to the selected number and include at least three words from that chapter in that day’s section. truth divided by booze is the universe, says the drunk with two dimes to rub together tight, mouth shut around the top of a dumb bottle hard. i see with the red eye of a saint, cry from up above. behind the pane of glass, we watch the way others act and wonder if we’ll ever see one another. undefined, star-spangled, he reaches for unknown prices paid, each to each, day after day, and the gentle rain always wets his atmosphere down, drenched. Continue reading
Posted Jan 31, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
This week on Next Line, Please, we were delighted to see so many strong entries from Dr. Lehman's Hamlet-centric prompt. Not only did writers incorporate the richness of Shakespeare's characters, but a zeugma, which we learned last week is a rhetorical figure in which one verb governs two nouns from different paradigms. Harkening back to our first prompt ever, a sonnet, took the place of this week's first winner: “Elsinore” by Justin Knapp Hamlet’s spirit haunts me seeking answers. He walks the chilly battlements at night, And speaks of our father’s spectral cancer. Both poisoned: one ear, one past made unright. He poses all the questions without key, Of the play, outside the play, in the play. Tell me: madness or just pretense to be? Was it doubt or revenge’s hand at bay? Heart clenched, more in sorrow than in anger, He asks about Ophelia’s mermaid death. Tell me: fate or free will, lithe or languor? Was it mishap or madness’s last breath? His essence always fades when I observe: If all was known, what purpose would life serve? Followed by a ground-shaking quake of images and sounds: “A hawk from a handsaw” by Morgan Frank The truth is that either one can cut the flesh and rip in jagged precision. Each one can depend on a hand extended: the falconer’s falling glove, the worker’s callous. The truth is in the job, not the wound. For to the manner born, the reach knows its risk. You can keep them both in the shed behind the house, feed one and oil the other. That which in you that was cut from flight, that which severed. Following this poem are five other marvelous poems, which you can find on American Scholar's page, along with next week's prompt! Tune in, write, and enter your candidate! --Virginia Valenzuela Continue reading
Posted Jan 30, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
This week on Next Line, Please, contributors responded to a prompt which asked for two stanzas, both ending with the phrase, "I could be wrong." Diane Laboda’s “Sabbath” provides awesome tension and complexity around layers of sin: It was your idea to speed-stack hay on this blistering July Sabbath, high-noon sun already dripping off corrugated roofs and bodies, to hose down behind the barn, wash away evidence of sinful industry. But I could be wrong. It was your idea to pile our clothes far away on the last wagon, so when Aunt Clara came by to bring pastor’s condolences we were as God created us, red-faced and headed for hell. But I could be wrong. And it appears that next week's prompt was inspired by one of this week's winning poems, Millicent Caliban’s “Relative Certainty” which cleverly applies the phrase to teenage girls, Hamlet, Adam and Eve, the Trojans, and Columbus: She’s only 14; this infatuation won’t last. Don’t worry, Claudius, he’ll soon snap out of it. My faith in her is absolute. Nothing could shake it. Don’t be silly, there’s no such thing as witches. Of course, I could be wrong. He surely won’t mind if we take just one bite. They’re obviously seeking reconciliation by sending us a gift. No doubt we’ve reached an island off the coast of India. The sea is calm, the sky cloudless. No reason to be anxious. Although I could be wrong. Hint hint: the ghost of Hamlet exists in your future, if you so choose to face next week's prompt, which can be found on the American Scholar's page along with the full post! --Virginia Valenzuela Continue reading
Posted Jan 23, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Well, folks, we finally have it! The top ten poems of 2017, as voted upon by the contributors to Next Line, Please. No fear: all can be found with a little bit of scrolling! Angela Ball, “The Difference (for G. C. Lichtenberg)”—7 votes Ricky Ray, “Forbidden Diamonds”—6 votes Christine Rhein, “Simplicity”—6 votes Berwyn Moore, “Picasso’s ‘Woman with a Crow’”—5 votes Elizabeth Solsburg, “To the young woman in the university hallway”—5 votes Courtney Thrash, “The Present”—5 votes Millicent Caliban, “Valentine’s Day Dream…”—4 votes Millicent Caliban, “Input, Output”—4 votes Diane Ferraro, “Death Rehearsal”—4 votes Paul Michelsen, “emptyhanded”—4 votes Paul Michelsen, “Never Say Forever Again”—4 votes Berwyn Moore, “MS”—4 votes Christine Rhein, “What The Soul Craves”—4 votes Michael C. Rush, “Failure Story”—4 votes Emily Winakur, “Ruby Red”—4 votes We also have in this week's post, a great many poems inspired by these seven specific titles: “Quick Question,” “Cheap Tricks,” “Long Story Short,” “Estimated Wait Time,” “Headline Risk,” “I personally guarantee,” and “The Take-Away. The winner took a title from the heap and made it his first line and gave his own title, the date, which I think works very well for the poem and specifically, the last line. I also really like the music made by half rhymes that show up whenever they want to, in mostly unexpected places, and the way the story unfolds, leaving most of the details in between the lines. “January 1, 2018” by J. F. McCullers Long story short, My father didn’t join us This New Year’s Day. He didn’t smoke on the porch. He didn’t eat black-eyed peas. He didn’t go home full and sleepy. Instead he sat alone in the sun On the little bridge Over the dark creek Where we opened the urn And scattered her ashes Last New Year’s Day. I also couldn't help but share this witty haiku. "Cheap (Reader) Tricks" by Clay Sparkman I once asked a friend “Did you read my new Haiku?” “I started,” he said. Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post with more poems, more anecdotes, and the prompt for next week! --Virginia Valenzuela Continue reading
Posted Jan 17, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
The voting goes on as we try to find the top ten poems of 2017! A lot happened last year and a lot continues to surface, but at the very least, our poems will remain a constant reminder of why we write: not only for the necessary revision of art, but for the necessary preservation of the past. This week's winner puts a spin on resolutions, reminding us to plan on the unexpected. "Surrender" by Diana Ferraro Resolutions take resolve, thus I prefer to evolve in more natural, unthought ways while time wanders on its unpredictable, unsteady path, bringing a not requested broken fifth toe, an eye going blind, and the punctual failures of age. The joy of basking in the unexpected, relieved of all tasks, all chores. Not waiting, surprised by the late bloom of the perfect, undreamed flower, child of an unknown resolution in the past. Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post, and to find out the prompt for next week! --Virginia Valenzuela Continue reading
Posted Jan 9, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
For the first post of the new year, we have a post full of double alliteration poems, written by the very faithful and talented Next Line, Please contributors. An interesting theme brewed which balanced reminiscence and hope, mingling the past and the present in an exploration of language which is, as always, a real treat to read. In light of the beginning of another year, I chose this journey poem as my favorite: Robert Albrecht's "Journey East" Journey east, my young friend, Before jeunesse escapes you. Away from judging eyes, And jabbing elbows, Journey east. Journey east with intention To the country of Jowett’s enchantment, Where the sermons of Jonathan Edwards Still judiciously echo. Journey east. Journey east with humility, And put a just end To this jealous enmity For those juntos eclectic Who’ve since journeyed east. Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post! --Virginia Valenzuela Continue reading
Posted Jan 2, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
This week on Next Line, Please, the prompt is to play with double alliteration, an experiment introduced to us by Aaron Fogel in a poem called “BW,” which was published in 1988. Building on this idea, Jim Dolot used his own initials in writing “Dictionary Jazz,” (1996). The poem begins, “Jack Derrida / Identifies himself / To the police / Of Jewish dreams / As John Doe” and has this memorable riff: Jeanne d’Arc A jailbird— A jackdaw— Her jeremiads Became his Jeux d’esprit. For next time, please write a poem or poems—with a 16-line limit—that plays on two letters. You may use your initials, or letter-pairings in wide use (such as Uncle Sam, us, upset, untied slates, unusual surface, screwed up, und so weiter). I think NLP regulars will go to town with this prompt. Visit the American Scholar's page to read the post in full, and to enter your candidate. -- Virginia Valenzuela Continue reading
Posted Dec 19, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
This week's contest proved to be A Brilliant, Creative engagement of sorts, with abecedariuses of all shapes, colors, and topics, from gods and goddesses of the world to a sampling of Ginsberg's "Howl" to an ankle bitch (bad boss). Michael C. Rush’s “She Writes Him on the Eve of the Revolution” was quite the tour de force: … and be careful, darling, entering frivolous gardens heroically. I just keep loving my next ordeal, properly quarantined, rousing schmucks to utter venal words extirpating your zeal, although by certain demands enveloped, from gross hope impeached, justice keeps litigating many new obscenely-proposed quotas, reacting slowly to undermining vandals whose Xmas yawps zing … Alerted by certain directions, everyone finds great hope in justice, kindness, love. Many now-obsolete promises quelled reasonable suspicions that underlying verities were xylophonic yin-yang zephyrs … Attack beautifully, cariño! Don’t ever fear going home if joining kills laughter. My note openly permits quitting rather suddenly to uphold victory without extinguishing your zest … and Angela Ball sums up “Paris in 26 Words”: A bored courtesan damns Evening’s façade, goes hunting In jewels, KOs Love’s menace, Not only parturition. Quizzes retrograde symbols, Tells us visions— Wild xylophones, yuletide Zydeco. And one more: Emily Winakur's “Bad Boss”: Ankle bitch cancer. Don’t ever forget How I jilted karma, Laughed my no-neck Ogre (piratous, queening, Rancid self) to undead Victory. Wealth Excels. You—zip it. And lastly, two wonderful announcements! One, that Angela Ball and David Lehman will give a joint reading at Poisson Rouge, the New York City nightspot, on Monday, February 12, 2018 (Lincoln’s Birthday). There, they will read some “Next Line, Please” poems. And two, that Next Line, Please: Prompts to Inspire Poets and Writers (Cornell University Press), will be published in March 2018! Super good stuff. Visit the American Scholar's page to check out the entire post and to read more abecedariuses! --Virginia Valenzuela Continue reading
Posted Dec 12, 2017 at The Best American Poetry