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Virginia Valenzuela
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This week's post offers up a prompt for our creative consideration with the topic of: your name! As Mr. Lehman so masterfully puts it: "When spoken, a person’s name likely affects him or her more than any other word in a language. It is also possible that one’s name can serve as the subject or the scaffolding of a poem." For example, Mr. Lehman used his own name to create an acrostic poem as follows: David means “beloved” in Hebrew, and Lehman might lead me to Lac Léman in Switzerland or to the failure of a certain investment firm 10 years ago. Here’s a quick acrostic: Do I believe in a supreme being? Against all odds, in the face of all reason, I Veer from the dogma of our day and Insist that faith remains Viable, if not visible, a prelude to a beloved state. What turns will your own poem take? Visit the American Scholar's page for more inspiration, an alternate assignment, and to enter your candidate! Continue reading
Posted yesterday at The Best American Poetry
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On this week's installment of Next Line, Please, dated September 11th, a day many of us remember solemnly and viscerally, David Lehman takes a moment to talk about the beauty of truth and the wonderful fact that, even during the harsh political environment we have seen in the last few years, Next Line, Please has remained a place for poetry, camaraderie, and conversation. He tells us how he (and others: New Yorkers, Americans, sentimental beings) is "moved to tears when he thinks of the sacrifices made in the face of an implacable hatred of our culture and institutions." It is true: nothing binds people together like tragedy, but even more so, the mending and healing that comes after. But anyway, back to the real meat of our Tuesday's: the weekly writings that David is convinced is not unlike "five-finger exercises in piano music." I think he's got something there. This week there were awards on the line for the best and the shortest poems on the theme of "the best." Keith Barrett wins for brevity with his untitled four-word double rhyme: Best quest Grail tale In a second poem, Keith reduces “Vow,” to its quintessence: I Do The Jane Austen heroine in me quivers with excitement. Then we have Ravindra Rao’s “Perfectionism,” a lovely display of many bests: I was the best high school debater In the country until someone better Changed the game. Then I became the best At regret, until someone sobbed distinctively On the news and it went viral et cet. For years I was the best drifter, in & out of house parties like whispers Until the gin bred a new type of human Even better at thin tendencies, with Even a stronger liver. For years the river Was my best friend, babbling me secrets About where it’s from, what it’s seen. Its source Is in the high-up mountain of forms: A burial mound that reaches to the sun. Clay Sparkman’s “The Best Murderous Dictator of All Time Is Idi Amin” lives up to its arresting title: Of course, if one is content to look at mere kill-counts, then I suppose Stalin rules. Yet, once into the quarter-mil club, that number is just a number. How much blood can we comprehend? That’s where style becomes the ultimate measure. Idi was like Satchmo with an accordion. He laughed, he sang, he danced, and he boozed— a cut up and a clown. Idi played the joker. He courted your heart all night long. And when he shared his final joke at the touch of dawn, you still loved him—he said so— even in that final moment, touching cold steel, as piss ran down your shaking legs. The image of Idi Amin as “Satchmo with an accordion” is striking, and I find the line breaks particularly excellent. And finally, a poem by me, your faithful NLP reporter! Virginia Valenzuela’s “Untitled” presents a moment of "pure pleasure," a cocktail on an urban terrace: First day of September and some leaves... Continue reading
Posted Sep 12, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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This week week on Next Line, Please, Mr. Lehman offers us a brand new prompt, and as usual, it's a best of the best! Write a poem about “the best” example you know of: the best practitioner of any field, art, craft, profession the greatest string quintet or chess match the best third baseman ever to don a Yankee uniform the best first line of a novel the most beautiful Vermeer painting the most interesting museum the best statue in Central Park. You get the idea. Take liberties: What was the best century in which to be alive? What is the greatest line Shakespeare ever wrote? What's the best topping for pizza or ice cream? And for those of you who think that the superlative "best" is actually the worst, write a poem as to why “the best” is a contested term. Entries should be 14 lines or less, due this Saturday at midnight any time zone. And a special addition: To the authors of (1) the best poem and (2) the briefest, we’ll send a complimentary copy of The Best American Poetry 2018. Visit the American Scholar's page to enter your candidate! Continue reading
Posted Aug 28, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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This week’s prompt brought us from a predetermined opening line (“It is impossible to love the same person twice”) to a predetermined closing line (“A thought is as real a thing as a cannonball”), both from the notebooks of Joseph Joubert, as translated from the French by Paul Auster. Pamela Joyce S took a few whacks at it, resulting in this lovely (and biting) poem: “The Art of Loving Thought” You, my love, are an impossible river. If crossing once is unwise, twice is suicide. I steel myself and venture in, treading tenderly among your bruised blue minnows. Tadpoles scatter seeking cover as we spar and bear our arms. Impossible to win or lose, I humbly twice surrender. But, oh my dear, your deadly art is like seeds of shrapnel speeding through my heart. I cannot speak, retreat, or think at all, Your thoughts are as real as a cannonball. Eric Fretz goes in another direction, performing great feats of wordplay that I find quite genius: It is impossible to love the same person twice. It isn’t possible to love the sane person’s wife. It isn’t possible, Tulip, the sane person’s wise. If it’s not plausible two lips, insane parson’s why. (The crazy vicar wore a mask and never spoke in words Except, when out of earshot, to the birds: “Forgive me, starlings, for you know that I have sinned,” And waited for a prophet, like the wind, A thawed Isaiah acting as a commoner, A thaw disaster aching as a common awl As thou, Israel, aching as a cannon calls: “A thought is as real a thing as a cannonball.”) Following suggestions from fellow contributors, Byron combined parts from two entries and came up with something really special, the repetition of the last line packing a punch. It is impossible to love the same person twice. But it is possible to think. To the happy man at end of day each thought is a drink of spring water but not to the soldier in the field or the condemned man against the wall to whom A thought is as real a thing as a cannonball. But our romance was different. It was a war full of border skirmishes, ceasefire treaties brokered by domineering hegemonic powers, isolated anarchist outrages, antiwar protests, and the last thoughts in a dying soldier’s mind. A thought is as real a thing as a cannonball. Visit the American Scholar's to read the full post, with even more great poems and comments! Continue reading
Posted Aug 22, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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This week on Next Line, Please, quizmaster Lehman has provided a new prompt: a game of poetry chess in which the first and last moves are already determined, and you, the writer, have 10 moves to connect them. Who will be the first to take on this challenge and win by check mate? Here are the lines: Line one: “It is impossible to love the same person twice.” Last line: “A thought is as real a thing as a cannonball.” Here are the rules: —You do not have to agree with either of the statements given, and your poem may begin with a dissent. —You may put either or both of the statements in quote marks. —You may rhyme but you’re not obliged to do so. —You may give your poem a title. Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post (with more details) and to enter your candidate! Continue reading
Posted Aug 14, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Last week on Next Line, Please, the masterful David Lehman gave us a prompt in which we were tasked with writing two lines of a poem every day, and then putting them all together on the 7th day. We were allowed to rephrase, rewrite, repeat, and reposition any and all lines produced during the week. The experiment yielded many different outcomes, including a lovely use of the refrain, and a rather clever repetition of "I've said it before: nothing repeats." I thought it best, though, to copy here the penultimate poem, put together by Mr. Lehman, and which was comprised of all the other selected poems, as well as stellar lines from out there in the field. I give you, "Poem in Three Parts" 1. I am leaving one for another, one home for another today. (Ivan Brave) Solos in the branches begin again, Once more. (Beth Dufford) I’ve said it before: nothing repeats. (Michael C. Rush) 2. If the eyes are the windows of the soul, (Byron) You were looted amusement, (Stephanie Cohen) You were lashed lonesomeness, (Stephanie Cohen) Peaches in the cobalt bowl. (Christine Rhein) Sometimes I think I wrote a noose. Luckily, I wrote it loose. (Eric Fretz) 3. We found a hole in the ceiling tonight; it kept us awake, leaking moonlight. (Elizabeth Solsburg) If the eyes are the windows, Where is the door? (Byron) What calm. Once more. (Beth Dufford) I’ve said it before: nothing repeats. (Michael C. Rush) Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post, including the original poems in which some of these lines were created! Continue reading
Posted Aug 8, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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This week on Next Line, Please, we have two new prompts for all to engage with. 1. Write two lines a day, starting today; recording each day your daily lines; and combining and recombining the 12 lines on Saturday, August 4. In the final product, feel free to eliminate a line, revise a line, or repeat a line to take the place of one that has been excised. You may cheat. (Whatever that means. Wink!) 2. Write two-line poems—10 of them—on the theory that you may get one really good two-line poem per every 10 written. Hint hint: Mix it up! Include an epitaph, a riddle, a joke, a quote, a definition, and at least one rhyming couplet. For reader’s ease, make each two-line poem a separate entry. Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post and to enter your candidates! Continue reading
Posted Aug 3, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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In last week's post of Next Line, Please, contributor's were asked to write an abecedarian poem in 26 words that would recount the plot of a particular novel, book, or play. We thought this one might be challenging, but the Next Line, Please contributors filled the poetry caravan with enticingly good recapitulations. Diana Ferraro’s “Hamlet” tells us a little something about betrayal, violence, and the essence of truth: Ardent betrayal casts dice! Elsinore fights ghosts! Hamlet is jinxed. Kingdom, law, mother, new occurrences pose questions, raise subjects. Truth unearths violent wisdom. Xyphoid yarn zips Elizabeth Solsburg’s “Garden of Eden” yields such gems as “devil’s ethereal food” and “repitilian slithering”: Adam becomes concerned— devil’s ethereal food grows here—its jaded knowledge like memory. Night opens pretended quiet, reptilian slithering— turbulence unimpeded. Victorious wickedness. Expelled, yearning. Zero Donald LaBranche chose an interesting and unexpected book to summarize: Varina by Charles Frazier. It concerns Varina Davis, the wife of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy: A book concerning defeat. Every foray grows hell-bound. Irascible justice kills legends marching nightly overcoming persistence. Quirky road signs tragically undergird Varina’s waxing xeric— yesteryear’s zeitgeist. And finally, a cento created by our own David Lehman to illustrate the many exceptional lines created for this week's prompt: Absent belief, —Patricia Smith As before, —George Collodi Adam becomes concerned. —Elizabeth Solsburg Abel: Buried; —Keith Barrett Cain: Detained. —Keith Barrett Anne beheaded! – —Millicent Caliban cockney dream —Angela Ball devours elephant —Charise Hoge emancipating friends —Michael C. Rush for grown-ups — —Charise Hoge hat inferred —Charise Hoge ghost, gentlemen, graves. —Ferraro; Caliban; Joyce Hamlet is jinxed. —Diana Ferraro Jesus! Krapp’s —Keith Barrett Jumbo knockout. —Christine Rhein Keys lend meaning. —Pamela Joyce Matrimonial negotiations —Millicent Caliban openly pursue —Michael C. Rush quest requiring serious thought, —Pamela Joyce rose-fingered skies. —Bryan Johnson Quest realized: —LB reptilian slithering. —Elizabeth Solsburg Opaque Party people Quicken Results. —Stephanie Cohen Reality —Michael C. Rush slams the unctuous, viscous wallop, —LB seeks triumphant union —Millicent Caliban underground. Violins wail: —Steve Belin-Oka Vixen-vengeance: —Christine Rhein victorious wickedness: —Elizabeth Solsburg vaulting whiteness. —Bryan Johnson Weltanschauung —Angela Ball extinguishing yahoo zealots. —Michael C. Rush Yaqui zen. —Michael C. Rush Youthful zest. —Millicent Caliban Yesteryear’s zeitgeist. —Donald LaBranche Yearning’s zenith. —David Lehman. For more abecedarians check out this post from December, and visit the American Scholar's page to read the whole post from last week! Continue reading
Posted Jul 28, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
The New School After Hours on July 20th, 2018 Come one, come all, to the hippest literary scene in the East Village! Hosted by Virginia Valenzuela 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 a little after 7pm We can't wait to see you there! Continue reading
Posted Jul 20, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Come one, come all, to the newly renovated digital platform for Next Line, Please on the American Scholar! You will like what you see. And now to the good stuff. Last week's post featured poems inspired by the style of abstract things, or in other words, "poems in the manner of." Faced with the job, Angela Ball chose to define a style of living: Louche glamor bound me to Dietrich, Garbo, and Bacall. Subversive Hepburn wore my power with knowledge. From me Dunaway and Keaton gained swagger, sparked fads. Habitué of war and escape, I pocket time. Don’t look, here I am now, shouldering my way into the room. For sheer cleverness it would be hard to compete with Steve Bellin-Oka’s “Poem in the Manner of the Muse as Real Estate Agent”: This new sonnet’s amortization rate is unfavorable— by the time your closing couplet pays off, you’ll have needed a new polyethylene heating oil tank, two water heaters, and a full copper re-pipe job. And the loan inspector’s report notes that even though the shiny iambic pentameter paneling in the octave looks solid, underneath in the sestet the wall joints are starting to fray like the hem of a well-worn skirt. Your volta creaks as it turns—there’s another costly repair on the horizon. May I speak frankly? You’re not young anymore. Down the street in your discarded draft drawer there’s a better investment. It may look like a shithole now, but all it needs is a stanza wall knocked out to let the light breathe. Hardwood floors enjambed and buffed and shined. Darren Lyons’s effort to construct a poem out of materials derived from the year of his birth came up with an intriguing, choppy, and visceral piece. Here is “1975 (to Rothko)”: five years gone, something reached up and bit my mom, as if you entered the blood flow, as you painted, as you bled. Red. my sign is red. watergate does not bother me, you entered me as i left the womb. Dad has a scared left knee from Kent State, student-thrown concrete, from the day before the four. five years gone, the boat people flow. The challenge for next week: to sum up a novel, movie, book, or play in a 26-word abecedarius. Usually an abecedarius consists of 26 words, the first beginning with “a,” the second with “b,” and so forth. For example, David Lehman's "Antigone": Against brutal Creon, doll establishes fugitive greatness. His internal justice, knowledge law mean nothing, only piety. Questing revenge, she triumphs, uttering virginal wounds extravagant, yearning’s zenith. Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post and to enter your candidate! Continue reading
Posted Jul 20, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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On this week's installment of Next Line, Please, the challenge to write poems “in the manner of” something abstract provoked a great many poems of interest. Poets wrote in the manner of the year of their birth (Elizabeth Knapp, Ravindra Rao), a Chopin piano sonata (Michael C. Rush), a hotel room (Christine Rhein), a speech by John F. Kennedy (J. F. (Jeff) McCullers), a travelogue (David Kibner), an episode of Alfred Hitchock Presents (Keith Barrett), the “muse as a real-estate agent” (Steve Bellin-Oka), and the “androgynous” style (Angela Ball), among other inventive choices, flooded the comment field. Below are some of the best. Pamela Joyce’s poem “The Imprisoners—After Rodin’s Thought (portrait of Camille Claudel)” was a total crowd pleaser: This, I know now, is how you wanted me. Voiceless, visionless, motionless. Less. Absent hands and agency, perpetually cool, translucent, smooth—a perfectly formed measure of your meticulous tools, at the pleasure of your chisel. And when I refused the discarded shards and shadows, when I emerged your virile rival, you turned me into stone and let the malevolent poet lock me in a tomb, a passing thought, an interrupted waltz, a monument to madness. David Kibner’s “Travelogue” is proof that the comic in poetry can also be heavy. The poem moves from a compelling description to lively literary specifics and the music of names. As for me, you gotta love those internal rhymes: The beauty of the places I went to comes second to the things I did such as when I rubbed elbows with Rimbaud rode Melville’s pelvis harpooned Djuna Barnes spanked Apollinaire’s petard but I must remain mum about all the things I did with a sullen William Cullen I’ve written songs in my head I will not sing, though I’m happy to hum Once again, the beauty of the places comes second to the things that were done, whether it was stroking Shelley’s belly or fondling Keats’s teats but you’ll never see the details spilled out on a broadsheet of everything, or any part of what was so main eventfully done with a defiant William Bryant Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post, and look out for more "poems in the manner of" and a new prompt next week! Continue reading
Posted Jul 11, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Last week's post of Next Line, Please (poems inspired by a poet or poem from the past) left us with a little bit of a ghost, a shadow, something to be said. In other words, we knew what we were in for this week, and we were hungry for it! I am happy to report, that this part two post delivers. Let's get down to the poetry: Jane Keats’s inspiration appears to be based on Robert Burns (“My love is like a red, red rose”) mixed up with Gertrude Stein (“rose is a rose is a rose”): My rose is the violet of roses for my whosis. My lover is the invisible inviolate of the violent night’s noses. You know I speak true, Miss. My violet is the violet of vivid lovely violets. My rose is the violet of roses. Donald LaBranche’s “The Shade of Ash Trees” is a powerful piece of writing: The power company men are here to cut the trees that the ash-borers and woodpeckers have killed. Some went to the saw mill, some went to heat the house. Some of the ash fed the forge fires of Haephaestus, Some became strips of paper in Keats’ coat pocket. A small chunk became a totem in an artist’s house. Among the five elements, earth produces growth mixed with wood; metal glows white hot when kissed by fire; and water holds them all in place to build you a house. Ash trees grew right up the barbed wire where the stream feeds that end of the meadow. A rear guard of them spreads out over ten acres to surround the house. The County wants to bring dozers in for a road so the neighbors can live there and raise their livestock. The borers’ work will never be done in their house. Sometimes people like me stand in these woods, trembling. Mostly, it’s in winter. Mostly, like deer, we’re harmless; living in the shade of ash trees like it’s a house. Now, next week's prompt takes the ghostly companion to a different level. Instead of another writer, we will be writing in the manner of a time period, a place, an item. For next week then, please write a poem “in the manner of”... a friendly poker game, a gothic romance, a Chopin piano sonata (no. 2, for example), a garment of which you are fond, or of the year in which you were born. Fourteen lines or less. How you construe “in the manner of” is entirely up to you. Visit the American Scholar's page to read the whole post and to enter your candidate! Continue reading
Posted Jul 5, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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This week's visit to the world of Next Line, Please was not only a mini anthology of masterful poems, but a tender gaze into the beauty of poetry. Mr. Lehman's write-up of the conversational history of poems and the ways in which poetry leans on, reinvents, and inspires its writers. "Every new poem exists in relationship to the poetry that preceded its existence," says Mr. Lehman. Due to the high turnout of high quality pieces, this week's post aims to show us a handful of poems, with the rest to be seen next week. Here are a couple: First by Andrei Codrescu, who created the “ghostly companion” prompt, and, on our doings, promptly decided to join the fray with something we highly suspect to be a shadow of John Ashbery: Looking Up Under the grove the tunnel sings to itself waiting for you to say I’ll do what the raids suggest, Dad, and that other livid window the door will not have track with or the broom beside it. But the tide pushes an awful lot of monsters including the meteor on television with whom there was no intercourse. And I think that’s my true fate. It had been raining. It had not been raining. Dog heads on the railing. As far as the eye will care to go. Far enough is plenty. No one could begin to clean this particular mess. There are no maids on Friday. There isn’t even beef. Lightning lay down zigzags on the procession. Thunder lay down in the heart. Don’t take it personally. “My friend, I am the first transistor in this peeling yellow barn.” “My child, I love any vast electrical disturbance.” “My people what are you doing before the closed chambers?” Disturbance! Couldn’t the old men just give it up? By night it charged over the plains bursting its wineskin on the Midwest. It drove from Dallas and Oregon. Always wither, Why not now? The electrical age isn’t over but its ambulances race with the electrocuted to the offshore oil well from cloud to cloud with old men’s beards and rages. The flood in the invulnerable age. Minuscule flag of observer. Second, from Pamela Joyce, who tells us that her “Covenant” takes its point of departure from Louise Gluck’s “Elms.” Here is “Covenant”: All night I try to extinguish sparks from the fire. Adrift in our ark I fear the parting or pairing of us— the charred bits and ashes we would pause to ponder, overlooking the dry rot at the helm that’s been your egress, that equates the foment of coke and oxy with love. And I have understood three times that burnt offering— the singed dove returning to your storm. Visit the American Scholar's page to be enchanted by the full post, and tune in next week for more great poems and a brand new prompt! Continue reading
Posted Jun 30, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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In Andrei Codrescu's book, The Poetry Lesson, the poet draws upon one of his many interesting teaching strategies to produce a unique sort of assignment. He assigns each student a “ghostly companion”—a poet, any poet, with whom the student may pretend to have a secret connection. Taking after Codrescu, Dr. Lehman proposes that we adopt this idea, but instead of taking an assignment, each of us gets to choose his or her own companion using the criteria of your choice. Maybe you find a poet with your same birthday, someone you love or someone you hate, someone whose name begins with the same letter as yours. Once you have chosen the identity of your ghost, choose a poem by that person and do a radical revision, one in which the reader won't be able to tell that there was any antecedent. One way to accomplish this is to print out the chosen poem in triple-space, and write your own poem between the lines. Or, you can choose to argue with the original text. We here at Next Line, Please say, why not? With one special rule, which is to not tell us who your companion is or what poem you used for inspiration. On the following week, everyone will be expected to reveal the identity of the GC and the title of the poem you chose. Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post, and to enter your candidate! Continue reading
Posted Jun 20, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Last week on Next Line, Please, David Lehman invited everyone to "go to town" with their favorite clichés, offering up two well known sayings: “Long Story Short” and “I could be wrong.” Ordinarily, we writers try to stay away from clichés and to come up with new and unique ways of describing the things we see and feel, but the contributors of Next Line, Please, inspired by this most interesting prompt, have proven to me that clichés can still be served fresh. Timothy Sandefur's “Short long story” turns the villanelle form on it's head, while also playing with the arrangement of the cliché phrases: I knew the story’d be a little long. The old man seemed to lose his way at times. He was in his 80s? Could be wrong; don’t think he said. Told me he’d belonged to the Air Force—this was at the time when it was still the Army—that was long ago. He was young, had never gone anywhere past the county line before. Now in Rome—no, I’m wrong; Berlin? Anyway, he wrote his mom or girlfriend just a couple lines, always kept it cheerful, not too long, not too detailed; told them bombs sounded like old tractors. He would sign off jauntily. Maybe it was wrong not to tell them more? Sounding strong with brevity? Then he paused, and I made some excuse to leave. He died—a long story—shortly after? Could be wrong. Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post! And stay tuned for another great prompt. Continue reading
Posted Jun 13, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Last week, David Lehman promised us a new prompt that was sure to be clever, artful, interesting, and smart. After a few thoughts on John Ashbery, who often used clichés in his work, but complicated or enriched them by turning them on their heads, Mr. Lehman proposed the following: For next week, write a poem which plays with one of two clichés: the notorious "long story short," shortened from the original "to make a long story short"; or, the very cheeky, "I could be wrong, but..." For the first, you might consider using it as a title, or as a repeated phrase, or, you might choose to break it up and write a poem that includes the words “long,” “story,” and “short” throughout. For the second, you might consider writing a stanza of six lines ending with the line "but I could be wrong," and submitting it forth as a part of a collaborate effort. Ah, what a wonderful day to have thought of John Ashbery, whose poem, "A Train Rising Out of the Sea" appeared to me on the uptown A train this afternoon in the New York City's "Poetry in Motion" collection. It was, of course, excerpted (a long story short), but all the more perfect for a partly cloudy day in June. Visit the American Scholar's page for more inspiration and to enter your candidate! Continue reading
Posted Jun 5, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Last week on Next Line, Please the notoriously clever David Lehman proposed two of Anna Kamienska’s aphorisms—“Sleep is what I’ll miss most when I die,” and “I walk around disguised as an overweight old lady”—as possible springboards for poems, and the contributors of Next Line, Please did wonders with this tasty piece of bait. “What I’ll miss most when I die” inspired Patricia Wallace’s “Homage to Kamienska,” which won plaudits and praise from some of our most discerning readers: When I am dead I’ll miss the fox who took up residence in my skull and listened for the scurry of mouse feet under the many layers of snow on my heart, and the owl asking “who,” perched on the stones of my spine. I’ll miss the hummingbirds migrating between my ribs, their small hearts beating so fast I thought that mine had stopped. I’ll miss the fish swimming my body’s waters searching a way to the sea, the hare unrepentently nibbling my pelvic meadows, the fireflies lighting candles in the chambers of my ears, the chameleon lizards lazily sunning themselves on the stations of my shoulder blades. How surprised they will be, these small creatures, for whom time moves more slowly, to find the doors closing and all trace of inhabitants gone. “Tourist Trap” by Ed Keller responds to the second side of the prompt—“I walk around disguised as an overweight old lady.” I walk around disguised as a tourist even though I’m from here Wardrobe pieced together from airport to downtown souvenir shop I carry a bag from one of these places as though I just came from there I suppose it increases my chances of being targeted by people who look for someone to take advantage of In fact I know it does Little do they know, until the bag is opened, that this is not simply a fashion statement or an unconscious reflection of my own mediocrity This is the look of a villain killer For I am living bait. And next, a personal favorite, a poem offered by a poet who goes by Byron: I walk around disguised as a fat man with a club foot, or a bag lady in the lift going down, or a bag man delivering hundred dollar bills in an old-fashioned medical bag to the future mayor of Los Angeles. Only in my sleep do I walk around undisguised, naked, twenty years old. And last but not least, springing from Kamienska “sleep” epigraph, David Lehman’s poem “The Dark Horse” which was made better by the poetic think tank that is NLP: Chances are, I will miss nothing. Death like good fortune comes when you’re least ready or you’ve given up on it. My definition of Zen is you get what you want when you no longer want it. Death comes as an even greater surprise than risking fifty thousand bucks on the dark horse in the Belmont and winning. And if the long shot comes through and there’s an afterlife, I... Continue reading
Posted May 30, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Last week on Next Line, Please, contributors were tasked with a formidable concept: the creation of a new hero. Lord Byron begins Don Juan, his comic masterpiece, with the lines “I want a hero, an uncommon want, / When every year and month sends forth a new one.” These are the heroes the writers of Next Line, Please came up with. Donald LaBranche wants a hero that can do algebra and write poetry, the head and the heart all in one! A hero from the border lands between poetry and algebra: some stone-hearted, scat singing daughter of a catbird from a long-suffering, secretive brood of Quebecois should be just the ticket. And she’s on the way, so I’ve heard. Third row back from the front of the train, bringing a coup d’état to restore what passes for order out of this crazy. And afterward will surely come hearings on her provenance, talk radio doubt about a hero in the first place. Then, time for the mob to run her out. Ravindra Rao’s “Study of Lines” brings us back to reality to remind us that our heroes are not always what they seem. I made a hero out of heartbreak like a painter fixated on the eye of a storm that passed years ago. Ache is the language of my spine, hunched over your scant, naked poetry, in which every line presages the current snow. How could I not know? And finally Eric Fretz who champions (and here I agree) vulnerability over brute strength: I want a hero who doesn’t catch cold And die of pneumonia in Greece. Who’ll grow Old, yet in verse and politics be bold And still “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” So as we’ve many times now all been told Poetry changes nothing, yes, it’s so, But neither does joining the armed struggle; I want my hero here to lie and snuggle. As for next week, David Lehman turns our attention to the poet Anna Kamienska, who offers us two great first lines: “Sleep is what I’ll miss most when I die.” and “I walk around disguised as an overweight old lady.” For next week, use one of these lines as a springboard, an epigram, or first line. Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post with even more heroes and more details on the new prompt. And don't forget to tune in every Tuesday for more of Next Line, Please! Continue reading
Posted May 27, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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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 May 15, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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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
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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
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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
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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